“Kids are not just little adults!”
If you work with a pediatrician for any length of time, you’re sure to hear them say something like this. Because childhood is the only time in life that you’re growing and developing, medical care in pediatrics is very different from other areas. Pediatricians are familiar with all of the special wrinkles in medical care for kids, and they have a tremendous “bag of tricks”, as any parent can attest.
Just as pediatricians see childhood as a special time in life, medical professionals have come to understand that “oldhood” is different from younger adult life. Scientific research continues to show us important differences in the ways that older people move, get sick, respond to stresses, and heal from illness. Just as important, old age is a time of tremendous variation from person to person. At age 80, one person might be wheelchair-bound and completely dependent on others for basic care. Another person the same age might be able to travel, care for grandchildren, or continue a career. Medical care for older adults needs to understand that the fundamentals are different as we get older, and there is no “one-size-fits-all”.
Because older adults have special needs in medical care, they need a special approach – a different “lens” that looks at the whole person, the family structure, and the community around them. Geriatrics clinicians are trained and experienced in the whole spectrum of older adult needs. Although initially trained in specialties like Internal Medicine, Nurse Practitioner, and Family Medicine, they differ from regular primary care specialists in their additional training, focus, and perspective.
In Geriatrics, clinicians have special areas of interest that are hugely important to older adults and their families. These include preventing falls, managing dementia, minimizing complex medication schedules, promoting independence, and coordinating a range of specialists. Geriatrics clinicians also understand that “oldhood” does not last forever, and that one of the ways they can best help patients and families is to plan and provide well for a graceful end of life. In short, Geriatrics takes a calm, thoughtful, and loving approach to a time that can seem hopelessly confusing to families.
Geriatrics clinicians use a team approach to care, working with nurses, social workers, pharmacists, physical therapists, and other disciplines. Most importantly, they see a person’s medical history as something that evolves over time, and they have an intense interest in an older person’s progress through the years. This team approach across time is the key to getting the whole picture of a person, and helping them to map out the best possible course for their care.
So how old is old enough to need a Geriatrics health professional? If you’re between the ages of 65 and 80 and are lucky enough to enjoy great health, you can probably stick with your primary care provider. You might consult with a Geriatrician to help you look down the road to your later years. If you or a loved one are over 65 and are struggling with mobility problems, multiple chronic illnesses, dementia, or feel like you’re on “too many medications”, a visit to a Geriatrician can help you and your family to sort through your problems. If you’re lucky and strong enough to have made it to 85, it may be best to have a Geriatrics clinician as your primary care provider.
Where can you find a Geriatrics Clinician? Look for “Geriatrics”, “Senior Clinic”, or “Senior Home Care” when you are looking for medical providers. When you call their office, ask if they specialize in the care of older adults, and especially inquire about the team approach to medical care and promoting independence. They should also have additional training and certification in areas related to health care for older adults.
As they say on the AARP billboards, we know that “roles change” as we age. For people over 85 and those between 65 and 85 with significant health limitations, it’s important to know that medical care changes, too. Consulting with a Geriatrics clinician may be a great way to make the most of these special years.
Editor’s Note: This article was submitted by Michael Galindo, MD, FACP. Michael is President of Utah Geriatrics Society, Intermountain Medical Group and may be reached by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org