As you know if you’ve listened to our radio programs or attended our seminars, here at AgingOptions we are passionate advocates for the vital role of geriatricians in senior health. Our observation over the years is that no medical expert is better qualified than a geriatric physician to care for the needs of aging men and women.
So when we find an article as convincing as this recent piece on the website Kaiser Health News, we feel the need to share it with our readers and radio listeners. It’s called “Geriatricians Can Help Aging Patients Navigate Multiple Ailments,” and we think it does a very persuasive job of arguing the benefits of geriatric physicians for seniors. If you’re a senior yourself or a loved one caring for an aging parent, spouse or friend, we strongly recommend this article.
As we age, our health problems frequently grow more complex. Many seniors are dealing with multiple health challenges and taking several prescriptions, all at the same time. But the Kaiser article suggests that traditional physicians seem either unaware of how to deal with these overlapping issues or unable to do so. Not so with geriatricians. “[We are] experts in complexity,” says one geriatric physician. But the challenge is that few patients and health care providers have an adequate grasp of the difference these geriatric specialists can make. “No one better understands how multiple medical problems interact in older people and affect their quality of life than these specialists on aging,” writes Kaiser Health News. “But their role in the health care system remains poorly understood and their expertise underused.”
Kaiser explains that “geriatricians are typically interns or family physicians who have spent an extra year becoming trained in the unique health care needs of older adults.” Some geriatricians serve as primary care doctors to senior patients while others serve in a consulting capacity helping other doctors understand the issues their older clients are facing. Ironically, though, even as the senior population grows dramatically, the number of geriatricians is declining. In 2016 there were fewer than 7,300 geriatricians in the U.S., which is a drop from the total number just two years earlier. This makes geriatricians “among the rarest of medical specialties,” Kaiser reports.
What makes geriatricians uniquely qualified is their “expert understanding how older adults’ bodies, minds and lives differ from middle-age adults,” the Kaiser article explains. One expert, Dr. Kathryn Eubank, medical director for seniors at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, said geriatricians “take a much broader history that looks at what our patients can and can’t do, how they’re getting along in their environment, how they see their future, their support systems, and their integration in the community.” Geriatricians focus on issues (often called “geriatric syndromes”) that other primary care doctors often neglect, including everything from falls to incontinence to frailty, fatigue, and cognitive impairment.
“If you’re losing weight, you’re falling, you can’t climb a flight of stairs, you’re tired all the time, you’re unhappy and you’re on 10 or more medications, go see a geriatrician,” said Dr. John Morley, professor of geriatrics at Saint Louis University, quoted in the Kaiser article. “Much of what we do is get rid of treatments prescribed by other physicians that aren’t working.” The Kaiser article reports on one seriously ill patient, 88 years old, who was on a total of 26 medications! A geriatrician evaluated him and took him off all but one, dramatically improving his strength and quality of life.
If you’re ready to talk to a geriatrician, we have a few suggestions for you. The Kaiser Health News article contains a link (which we’ve included here) to the website of the American Geriatrics Society where you can search for a geriatric specialist in your area. You can also ask your own doctor if he or she has special training in geriatric medicine, but you may have to probe a bit for the answer. “Many doctors claim competency in caring for older adults,” says the Kaiser article. “Be concerned if they fail to go over your medications carefully, if they don’t ask about geriatric syndromes or if they don’t inquire about the goals you have for your care.” Above all, don’t hesitate to ask pointed questions. But the best option, we suggest, is to call our AgingOptions office and let us refer you to a geriatrician near you. You’ll be glad you did.
If you’re getting serious about retirement planning, you’ll also be very glad you attended one of our AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminars. There you’ll discover a uniquely powerful approach to retirement planning that integrates all the elements of your retirement into one seamless plan: your finances, your housing choices, your legal protection, your health care requirements, and communication with your family. You can explore this breakthrough in retirement planning without cost or obligation. To find out seminar dates, times and locations, and to register online for the seminar of your choice, simply click on this link, or call our office during the week. We’ll look forward to meeting you as together we explore the power of LifePlanning – your number one tool to ensure a secure and fruitful retirement.
(originally reported at www.khn.org)