Aging is a natural process and one that is inevitable. But in this day and age, the population of the world’s elderly is increasing at an unparalleled rate. According to a report authorized by the National Institute of Aging (NIA), “An Aging World: 2015”, an estimated population of 8.5% of people worldwide (617 million) are of the age of 65 and above, and this fraction is expected to rise to 17% of the world’s total population by 2050, which is about 1.6 billion people.
The National Council on Aging reports that 80% of older adults have at least one chronic disease, and 68% have at least two.
Implications of an Increasing Old Age Population
People living a longer life does not automatically mean that they are living healthier too. Aging is the most common risk factor for a plethora of diseases and this increase in the aging populace poses a great number of public health challenges that need to be dealt with. This brings in the role of geriatrics specialists.
Geriatrics is a specialty in medicine that focuses on the health and care of old people. It focuses on promoting health by working towards the prevention and cure of diseases and disabilities in older people.
Many seniors manage multiple medical conditions, such as arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, and neurological conditions. A geriatrician has special training in how these conditions interact in seniors
What is a Geriatrics Specialist?
A geriatrics specialist (also known as a geriatrician) is a primary care doctor who has received added education in treating older adults, specifically people who are 65 and above. A doctor specializing in geriatrics is skilled enough to treat and take care of people who have multiple chronic medical conditions that hinder their everyday mental and physical activities.
- Geriatrics specialists complete medical school, and residency requirements, receive board certification in internal medicine or family medicine, and then complete a geriatric medicine fellowship & Obtain an unrestricted medical license to practice in the US and Canada. They spend almost 15 years in medical education and gain the necessary skillset to practice geriatric care and work towards the improvement and provision of healthcare tailored to accommodate issues faced in old age.
What does a Geriatrics Specialist do?
Geriatric doctors, also called geriatricians, specialize in caring for aging adults who often have complex medical issues. They focus particularly on keeping you functional and helping you maintain your quality of life. Geriatric doctors understand caregivers’ roles and work with family members, too
A geriatrics specialist specifically concentrates on areas that tend to affect the elderly population such as osteoarthritis, balance issues, Alzheimer’s, dementia, cancer, type 2 diabetes mellitus, heart disease, frailty, depression, urinary incontinence, osteoporosis, and insomnia.
Consultations with a geriatrics specialist take longer than consultations with other doctors because they spend time and attention on addressing any and all challenges that a patient may have. They will also gather as much information about you as possible to get to know anything and everything that may affect your health. This may include family, lifestyle, and social aspects.
A Geriatric Specialist’s Team
Since older adults have complex health problems, one of the key services a geriatric specialist delivers is the coordination of care. Several issues often need a team approach, for which a geriatric specialist’s team may consist of:
- Family physicians.
- A geriatric nurse who may assist a patient if they are bedridden or require some constant medical assistance
- A social worker may visit the patient often and check if they are complying with the doctor’s instructions.
- Community-based service providers.
- Physical and occupational therapists who may help with physiotherapy of patients with difficulty in maintaining balance and walking
- A certified diabetes educator who may monitor blood sugar levels in diabetic patients and suggest them a suitable diet and medications to maintain sugar levels
- A pharmacist who may prescribe medications according to needs
- A geriatric psychiatrist may provide therapy to patients suffering from depression.
- Family members
When to See a Geriatric Specialist?
Ideally, an older person should start working with a geriatrics specialist when their condition causes significant frailty or impairment which tends to happen usually when someone starts coping with a number of different health conditions. Generally, if you are facing any of the following situations, you should consult a geriatrics specialist.
Taking Multiple Medications
More than one-third of adults over the age of 62 have been known to take at least five prescription drugs and the more medications one takes, the higher risk they have of having drug interactions and adverse side effects. Elderly people are especially prone to side effects because their body metabolizes drugs in a different way as compared to younger people. Around one in ten hospital admissions in older persons is because of an adverse drug reaction.
Geriatrics specialists have expert training in assessing an individual’s medicines, looking for side effects and drug interactions in seniors, and counseling to stop or change certain drugs that can lead to problems.
Having Trouble with Memory
Deterioration of the cognitive ability is an unavoidable thing that comes with aging, but severe symptoms may suggest depression, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or Parkinson’s disease and may affect the way you react and interact with your environment.
Geriatric specialists are specialized to analyze and differentiate between the signs that come with normal aging and those that accompany serious illnesses. They can then try to prevent the disease from worsening further and assist the patient in managing the disease.
Having Issues with Mobility
Falls are the most important cause of death and injuries among adults above 65 years of age. Old age makes you more susceptible to falls and you might need more assistance and supervision. A geriatrics specialist can help foresee such problems and provide you with a proper care plan that you can employ to prevent them from happening.
A doctor specializing in geriatrics can also suggest you some balance-strengthening exercises to practice at home and/or recommend a course of physical therapy, as well as get you in touch with an occupational therapist or a physical therapist who can visit your house and do a fall-risk assessment. All these measures can help keep you stay independent for longer.
Aging people often develop balance and mobility problems. As such, geriatric doctors treat a lot of falls. Three out of 10 people over the age of 70 fall each year, and 90% of broken hips in people over 70 results from falls. Fortunately, there are ways geriatric doctors can help lessen your risk of falling.
All physicians seeing older patients should perform a fall assessment. This tool helps geriatric doctors discover and address your fall risk factors, which can include medications you take and conditions such as:
- Vision problems
- Chronic diseases
- Foot problems
- Cognitive impairment
- Environmental hazards (slippery rugs, poor lighting, steps, etc.)
Having Been Admitted to the Hospital
Research has shown that older people who receive care from a geriatrics specialist in the hospital recover more quickly than people who do not. People above the age of 65 who consulted with a geriatrician while hospitalized for a trauma injury such as a fractured rib or injury to the head were able to continue with their everyday activities (like walking, bathing, managing financial matters, and cooking) much more quickly than those who did not.
Having Urinary Incontinence Issues
Uncontrolled loss of urine is a common issue in older adults but getting professional help from a geriatrician can help with recovery. They may suggest exercises of pelvic muscles, help in setting up a urination schedule, assistive devices, and may also prescribe some medications or propose surgery.
The elderly are especially prone to malnutrition due to mental health issues like depression, limited income, dietary restrictions, or not remembering to eat due to dementia. This can lead to weakened muscles and a weak immune system. Geriatrics specialists can link you up with nutritionists and dieticians that can devise food plans and schedules for you to follow that will help you get all the necessary nutrients you need.
Studies have found that 29% to 52% of older adults in nursing homes are depressed. Older people are less likely to have depression if they still live in their communities, where the rate is more like 1% to 5%.
Geriatricians are trained to assess their patients’ moods. Depression in older people doesn’t always look the same as depression in younger adults. Its symptoms often appear to result from other medical conditions. For example, dizziness or shortness of breath can be a sign of depression in an older patient, but could easily be mistaken for heart disease.
Doctors must make treatment decisions carefully, especially if you’re already taking a lot of medications or have other complicating medical problems. The geriatrician must weigh the drawbacks of treatments like surgery or medications against your quality of life.
See Also: Taking The Road To Emergency Medicine
As the population of older adults in the world is increasing, so is the need for geriatric specialists who will not only treat elder people but will also help them to improve their lifestyles.
While there’s no set age to start seeing a geriatric doctor, most see patients who are 65 years and older. You should consider going to one if you:
- Become frail or impaired
- Have multiple conditions that require complex care and medication routines
- Can no longer get adequate support from your caregivers
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