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Future of Health Care for the Aging to be Addressed at "Faith in the Future" Conference

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Duke Health News 919-660-1306

DURHAM, N.C. - As the population of America continues to age, resources to care for the sick and infirm will be hit hard, says Dr. Harold G. Koenig, of Duke University Medical Center and coordinator of an upcoming conference to address such issues.

The conference, called "Faith in the Future: Religion, Aging, and Healthcare in the 21st Century," will bring together national experts in the field of aging, health care and theology in an effort to examine methods of offsetting expected health care demands. The conference is to be held March 4-5, at the Bryan University Center on the Duke University campus.

John DiIulio, head of the newly created White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, will be a featured speaker.

"Americans are going to face an immense health care crisis within the next 20 years," says Koenig, known for his research on the role of religion in health. "The population aged 65 and older is simply growing exponentially. Hospitals and nursing homes are already at capacity in this country and we have a shortage of caregivers. We need to examine ways of handling this situation in order to be prepared for what lies ahead, and we need to begin today."

One way to handle the situation, says Koenig, is by preparing and educating members of community organizations, municipal programs and faith-based groups who already work to meet these types of needs.

"We are hoping to create a workable model, similar to that used by Habitat for Humanity, that we can use on a grassroots level to address both current and future health care needs of the aging," says Koenig. "By bringing together leaders in the fields of aging, health care, community service organizations and theology, we can plan ways of overcoming the limitations of the current health care system."

The current system lacks the infrastructure to care for the number of people who will be demanding medical services in the next 10 to 20 years, according to Koenig. "Barring building a lot of new hospitals and other types of care facilities, we're going to need other answers."

Experts will explore possible solutions to issues relative to older Americans, such as the perception of retirement and their concept of "the good life," the role religious communities play in helping develop older adults as mentors to young adults and children, and how such organizations

can work with health professionals and government agencies to help older Americans meet physical, emotional and spiritual needs as they age.

In addition to DiIulio, speakers from several high-profile organizations will present their ideas to the public, including Dr. Harvey J. Cohen, 2001 president of the Gerontological Society of America and director of the Center for the Study of Aging & Human Development at Duke University Medical Center; Ruth Stafford Peale, director of Guideposts Magazine; Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity; the Rev. Kirbyjohn Caldwell, of the Windsor Village United Methodist Church of Houston; Dr. Robert G. Brooks, secretary of health for the state of Florida; and Sir John Templeton, founder of the John Templeton Foundation.

The conference is jointly sponsored by the Duke University School of Medicine Office of Continuing Medical Education, the Duke Center for the Study of Aging & Human Development, the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at Duke University Medical Center, the Gerontological Society of America and the John Templeton Foundation.

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