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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU program addresses the health care of aging population

As the country's population ages, more and more health care professionals will need to be trained in gerontology, said Stephen Arnold, head of New Mexico State University's Department of Health Science.

r to address this need, the department has revised its minor in gerontology. The interdisciplinary minor is now completely online and is offered as a distance education program through the College of Health and Social Services.

The need for geriatricians and gerontologists is expected to grow by more than 35 percent through 2006, ranking among the most rapidly growing employment areas, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Ronald Lucchino, a professor emeritus of biology at Utica College of Syracuse University, has joined the health science faculty at NMSU and leads the new distance education program.

"We are facing a very serious financial and social care crisis in the next 25 years if we don't make sure we have enough people trained to deal with the aging baby boomers. Nationally, we have less than 4 percent of our health professionals trained in geriatrics," Lucchino said. "We need to make sure there are enough trained people out there to meet the growing needs of our aging population. NMSU is one of the few national institutions that is addressing this crisis in health care."

In the United States today 13 percent of the population is over 60 and 20 percent of the federal budget is used for funding health-care related programs for the aged. In 25 years, Lucchino said, it is expected that 20 percent of the population will be over 60 and the funding for these programs will have to grow proportionately. He said the country needs professionals in the field now who can develop affordable programs for elderly health care.

Lucchino said Alzheimer's disease is just one example of the serious issues facing the elderly. In New Mexico today there are about 34,000 people with Alzheimer's, but in 25 years that number is expected to grow to more than 130,000 people, he said.

"Dealing with the issue of Alzheimer's alone could bankrupt our health care system," Lucchino said. "This issue and many others will be addressed during the course work at NMSU. Health care professionals with gerontology training will be better equipped to provide quality care to meet the expanding needs in geriatrics."

As director of the Institute of Gerontology at Utica College, Lucchino developed a major, minor, certificate program and an online minor in gerontology. He retired to Santa Fe three years ago.

The six-course, 18-semester-hour online program at NMSU is designed for health and human service professionals, current students and others interested in acquiring knowledge about gerontology and geriatrics, Arnold said.

This spring the program will offer courses in adulthood and aging as well as aging and public policy. Arnold said two courses will be added to the online curriculum each semester.

"This will increase the marketability of graduates at NMSU," Lucchino said.

For more information about the online gerontology minor, call NMSU's Department of Health Science at (505) 646-4300 or go to http://www.nmsu.edu/~hlthdpt/mg.html.