Geriatrics is the treatment and care of elderly individuals. The age range for these patients is not clearly established. It is, however, more common for patients to be treated by geriatric practitioners once they pass age 65. However, with people living longer, it is more typical for patients to be over the age of 70 when seen by geriatric providers. Geriatric practitioners must distinguish between diseases and the natural effects of aging, while treating diseases when appropriate and minimizing the effects of the aging process.
Geriatricians have a background in family practice or internal medicine initially. If a family practitioner or internist wants to sub-specialize in geriatrics, they must complete an additional one or two years of fellowship training. Medical professionals with a sub-specialty in geriatrics may work in a hospital, hospice, medical office, nursing home, or a combination of these medical facilities. The main physical areas of concern that geriatricians attend to are:
- Impaired vision and hearing loss
- Intellectual/cognitive impairment and memory loss
- Mobility issues
There may be medications or non-chemical treatments and approaches that can greatly improve the lives of elderly patients. For example, a geriatrician may prescribe yoga or Tai Chi to help with balance and flexibility. By doing so, the patient has a greater potential to live a healthy life with greater confidence in their physical abilities and stability. Some of these alternative recommendations may go hand in hand with more traditional Western medical approaches, such as medications and invasive treatments.
The most critical issue facing elderly patients is the possibility of dementia. As the brain ages, contributing factors such as genetics and lifestyle can reduce cognitive functions. In up to 40% of the cases, dementia can be seriously reduced or prevented with proper interventions. When an individual demonstrates the signs and symptoms of decreasing mental functioning, they may present a risk to themselves and others. Activities like driving, self-care, as well as the activities of daily living may be compromised, creating a potentially dangerous situation. It may be appropriate for a family member to obtain legal authority, such as Power of Attorney to help manage the decisions and maintain proper care.
Geriatrics is a very important sub-specialty in the medical field. It is critical for those caring for the elderly to have a good understanding of the issues their patients’ present and a strong level of competence to deal with those issues.