Graying of Texas: Part 1

State officials and health experts say Texas -- and the rest of the country -- are heading for a crisis in being able to care for a population that's getting older and poorer all the time. In part one of a two-part series, Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports this crisis has been a generation in the making.

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Texas has one of the fastest growing populations in the country, and two groups feeding that growth more than any others are aging baby-boomers and Hispanics. Writing in Texas Medicine magazine for the Texas Medical Association, state demographer Steve Murdock says what's happening in Texas is happening all over the country.

The first wave of baby boomers -- those born in 1946 -- turns 65 in 2011, and Murdock says this one group will enormous impact on state health care resources.

Murdock says Hispanics are the other fastest growing group in Texas, and they're also raising red flags for future health needs.

Murdock says statistically -- Hispanics have lower incomes, which makes them less likely to have health insurance. This means they get less preventive care, which makes them more likely to develop chronic health problems.

Murdock says this crisis will only get worse, because there's also a shortage of specialized care for seniors. Nationally, there are now only 2.5 geriatrics specialists per ten thousand elderly patients, and by 2040, that ratio will be even smaller. Experts -- like Doctor Steve Levy of the Texas Geriatrics Society -- say care for millions of seniors will fall to public hospitals and primary care doctors.

Tomorrow, in Part 2 of this series, we'll talk with Dr. Levy and others about what can be done to head off this crisis.

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