Geriatric medicine or geriatrics is a branch of general medicine that focuses on health care in the elderly. It does not fit a strict definition based on age but generally focuses on persons 65 years and older. However, even a younger adult who is showing signs of age-related diseases can consult with a geriatrician. Similarly it is not uncommon for individuals older than 75 years to only then seek the services of a geriatric health care professional.
Advancing age is associated with an increased risk of various illnesses and the senior years are fraught with many such ailments as the body’s ability to heal is greatly reduced and there are age-related anatomical and physiological changes in the human body. The aim of geriatric medicine is to treat and manage diseases in the elderly, prevent diseases commonly associated with getting older and improve the functioning of seniors on a physical, mental and social level.
There is a global misconception that old age is associated with suffering and many ailments are passed off as a part of the normal ageing process. While an older person may be at greater risk of developing various diseases, this can be avoided or the severity minimized with proper health care. Similarly the changes in anatomy and physiology associated with age should not be the cause of great discomfort that is thought to be the a part of ageing. The body of a senior may not be able to withstand the same stresses as that of a younger adult over a prolonged period but this should not prevent them from enjoying an active and fulfilling life.
A geriatric physician, also referred to as a geriatric specialist or geriatrician, is a medical doctor or specialist in family medicine or internal medicine with an additional post graduate qualification and relevant experience in geriatric medicine. Some may practice general medicine in geriatrics while others may focus on certain specialties like orthopedics. The field of geriatrics is broad and therefore involves more than one health care professional. A geriatrician may work in conjunction with pharmacists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, dietitians, psychiatrists, social workers and nurses to offer a complete health care solution for elderly patients.
Geriatric medicine is a dynamic field that requires like minded health care professionals. As seniors are exploring new avenues in life that were not traditionally the norm, geriatric health care professionals have to understand their patient’s needs and desires and provide practical and effective solutions to facilitate these changes. After all health extends beyond the absence of disease. Although many consider the focus of geriatric medicine to be on the physical aspect in health care, geriatric medicine also puts a great emphasis on psychosocial factors. Geriatric health care professionals ensure that relevant measures integrate all aspects of health and well being.
With age there may be noticeable and uncomfortable changes in mobility, body functions, senses and mental faculties. These changes may or may not be related to any chronic disease but requires special attention in the older patient. Frail older patients are also at a very delicate stage and require intensive and specialized care that is within the ambit of geriatric medicine. While recovery may not always be possible, geriatric health care can cater for possible complications and help minimize the suffering of the frail patient.
Geriatric health care has come under the spotlight in the past few decades as people are living longer and leading more productive lives. This is largely due to the advances in modern medicine that has increased the human lifespan. It is also motivated by the elderly having a greater desire to live fulfilling lives in the senior years and shedding the idea that age is associated with suffering. As more senior citizens look to an active life including socializing, traveling and even working, geriatric health care should also be seen as a means of maintaining this lifestyle even in the absence of disease.