Thursday, October 12, 2023

Geriatric Medicine - An Overview

 As one advances in age, various changes occur in the body. Organs and systems weaken. This is, by design, as genetics age, a reality reflected through such things as wrinkles, weakening of bones, loss of muscle mass, and the onset of aging-related diseases like dementia (impaired memory). Even so, the quality of life doesn't have to dwindle. That's why geriatric medicine exists.

Geriatric medicine is care for persons 65 years and older. The scope of geriatric care has expanded to encompass older people's social and psychological needs. For context, people aged 65 and above report the highest rate of inpatient hospital stays, more than two and a half times higher than persons aged 45 to 65. Moreover, one in every two visitors to emergency departments is 65 years or older.

The need for dedicated care for older populations is supported by studies that show that time and use ages the human body. As one age, some functions like immunity may cease to work as they used to when one was younger. Weakening of immunity heightens susceptibility to diseases. A 75-year-old's body may not respond to certain medications as well as a teen's body.

Not all 65-year-olds need geriatric care. As such, several factors are considered in determining whether one needs geriatric care.

Geriatric assessment considers one's functional ability. Someone who struggles to perform ADL (activities of daily living) may require geriatric care. ADLs are basic self-care tasks essential for living, like eating, bathing, getting dressed, grooming, and using the bathroom. Then there are IADL (instrumental activities of daily living). IADLs are activities crucial to living independently, such as cooking, operating the phone, managing finances, and managing medication.

Physical health is also assessed for balance, coordination, hearing, vision, bone strength, and continence. The physical exam also screens for diseases and conditions not related to aging.

Because of the increased susceptibility to mental health problems, senior assessment screens for any signs of impaired mental and cognitive abilities. Poor mental and cognitive health exposes one to several other risks, such as accidents due to poor attention and coordination.

The environment is a key determinant of health, and more so as one age. As such, geriatric assessment considers one's socio-environmental conditions, such as the availability of reliable social support and network. If the special support one needs is lacking in their environment, it may be decided they are put in an assisted living facility.

Like all types of care, geriatric medicine occurs across a continuum: prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and management. As such, the earlier a disease or limiting condition is identified, the better it can be dealt with.

Preventive measures may include eating nutritious and healthy meals and keeping fit. Regular check-up helps to catch a disease or condition before it worsens. In terms of treatment, proper medication management is key.

Two in every ten Americans will be over the age of 65 by 2030, according to the U.S. Bureau. And given eight out of ten older people have a chronic condition or disease, demand for geriatric care will likely increase. Aging is unavoidable. Still, a healthy lifestyle can reduce susceptibility to aging-related conditions and diseases.

Published: Learning through Physician Shadowing

I published “Learning through Physician Shadowing” on @Medium