With one baby boomer, someone born between 1946 and 1964, turning 65 every 10 seconds in this country, the demand for geriatric specialists has far outstripped supply. The Association of Directors of Geriatric Academic Programs projects that more than 35,000 geriatricians will be needed by 2030. Despite the need, geriatric fellowships in 139 training programs only fill 54 percent of the slots. Elderbranch.com reports that geriatricians comprise only 1.2 percent of all physicians in the U.S., and the American Geriatric Society estimates that we are already short more than 10,000 geriatricians today. Baby boomers are expected have three chronic diseases after reaching age 65 and will average more than 40 physicians a year. Baby boomers spend more than 60 percent of health care costs, 74 percent of prescription drug sales and 51 percent-of-over the counter drug sales in today’s world.

The Flathead is indeed lucky to have Dr. Linda Hitchcock join other distinguished specialists who have chosen the Flathead Valley to be their home. Dr. Hitchcock and her husband Fred have a practice affiliated with North Valley Hospital. They chose North Valley because of its adherence to the Planetree philosophy of healing. The Hitchocks believe the Plantree philosophy is great fit for the type of care they want to provide and for the values they hold important. The Hitchcocks were also seeking an opportunity where they felt they could reach a balance in their personal and professional lives that would enable them to provide quality care to their patients for years to come.

What is geriatrics? Geriatrics focuses on the health care of elderly people. It is differentiated from adult medicine by its focus on functional ability, independence and quality of life. Geriatrics focuses on the impact of aging while gerontology focuses on the process of aging itself. Geriatric care deals with the physiology of aging, the functional assessment of older people, the atypical presentations of illnesses in older people, and the assessment of cognitive status and mood of the elderly.

Dr. Hitchcock is medical director for Frontier Hospice in Kalispell and medical director for the Division of Geriatric Specialty Services with Fred in Whitefish. Linda was born in a rural hospital in Waverly, Mo., where her dad dug the basement for the hospital in exchange for medical care for his family. She and her brother Jack attended the University of Missouri at Kansas City School of Medicine. Linda practiced family medicine as the sole practitioner for 11 years in New Baden, Ill. She became involved with a local nursing home that was unusual in that it cared for elderly patients as well as developmentally disabled elderly patients. She became increasingly interested in nursing home care and became a certified medical director. She was nominated as the National Medical Director of the Year in 2011.

She also has board certification in Hospice and Palliative Care. Dr. Hitchcock has two sons who are training to be nurse practitioners.

Fred serves as the project manager, Geriatric Specialty Services, at North Valley. He spent more than 20 years in the Army and served as hospital comptroller in the Medical Service Corps. He has also served as an associate professor of history at the U.S. Military Academy. He also grew up  in a small town of fewer than 300 in Texas where his parents moved after World War II. He has two daughters who live in Missouri and work in retail management.

As we consider our aging in the Flathead Valley, we are fortunate that an experienced medical geriatric specialist is available to guide us through this part of life. You can contact their office at 406-862-1030 to schedule a comprehensive geriatric assessment with their team of specialists.

Liz is fascinated by the various approaches to aging – from denial, to plastic surgery, to running marathons, to depression. Given our current demographics, Liz thinks that there is a lot to explore, celebrate and learn from those living and aging in the Flathead Valley. Contact her at Liz@frontierangels.com.