Definition and Overview
Also referred to as geriatric care or elderly care, geriatric medicine refers to a medical subspecialty that aims to meet the special needs of seniors or the elderly.
It can fall under general medicine, although it’s more commonly associated with internal medicine, which is a branch in medicine that revolves around adults.
It may sometimes be confused with gerontology. Although both refer to aging, geriatric medicine refers to the care provided to the elderly while gerontology is the study of the aging process.
The body’s medical needs can vary at different stages of life since many physiological changes can occur. For example, babies are known for their soft delicate skin. By the time they reach their teens, however, hormones will make them susceptible to common skin problems such as acne. The issue can extend all the way to young adulthood. When they reach senior age, the challenge is how to increase the production of collagen, which can significantly drop, leaving the skin sagging or loose.
There’s also the problem with obesity. In general, young people are more likely to lose weight faster than the elderly since the latter already have a decreased metabolism. Obesity is a pandemic that boosts the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain types of cancer.
General practitioners and internists can provide the medical needs of older people as their training and even experience give them the necessary tools to do so. However, when the problem has already become too complex, advanced, or difficult, it’s not uncommon for these health care providers to refer patients to a specialist, who is sometimes called a geriatrician.
The training path of a geriatrician follows that of general doctors and internists. He or she obtains a 4-year undergraduate study, which doesn’t have to be related to the major. Then, he or she takes up another 4 years in medical school, after which he or she can get a medical license, a requirement in every state. Residency is the next step, which may take about 3 years. To specialize in geriatric medicine, it requires at least a year or two of fellowship.
Geriatricians work in different settings. They can be found in healthcare facilities such as hospitals and clinics. They are also active in health communities, as well as in hospices, nursing care, and assisted living centers. Some have ventured into research and work in laboratories that study anti-aging measures.
When to See a Geriatrician
Patients should consider seeing geriatricians when:
They are already considered as elderly – The minimum age can vary depending on the country. In the United States, a person is considered a senior or elderly once he or she reaches the age of 60, although some think 65 years old as the elderly age. Some older adults can reach this ripe age with a good health condition. Geriatric medicine will ensure that they can continue in such a healthy state for as long as possible.
They have complex illnesses – It’s not unusual for elderly patients to develop different types of diseases at the same time especially if they have already been diagnosed with at least one of them before they reach their senior age. This also happens simply because the body gradually breaks down. For instance, a patient who has been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes early may eventually develop kidney disease or diabetic retinopathy later in life.
They are taking too many medications – If the patient develops different types of diseases, then it follows that medications can also be aplenty. Geriatricians ensure that the medications don’t have contraindications and as much as possible, keep treatment programmes simpler and easier to remember. Geriatricians also closely monitor intake and introduce therapies that could make medical interventions more convenient and comfortable.
They are susceptible to elderly-related illnesses or conditions – Certain conditions can manifest or become more pronounced when the patients reach elderly age. For example, macular degeneration, which can lead to vision loss, almost always occurs during old age. The risks of developing cancer also increase as the person ages due to many possible genetic mutations. Geriatricians monitor the person’s health through screening tests and annual physical checkup.
They need other types of help – Geriatricians don’t just work on the physical health of patients. They also promote healthy social relationships, boost cognitive abilities, and help patients be as independent as possible. To a certain extent, they assist in legalities, such as drafting living wills or choosing a primary caregiver.