Proper geriatric care is more important than ever, as the population gets older and diseases associated with the elderly become more commonplace. Longer life-expectancy has sparked growth in U.S. geriatric care, with Primary Care Physicians taking the lead. Older patients have unique healthcare needs that require unique expertise from a dedicated physician who understands and can coordinate all the aspects of their care.
What does geriatric care look like?
As people age, their medical needs typically become more extensive. More than 50 percent of all adults 65 and older are suffering from at least three medical conditions, many of them chronic. Diagnosing and treating several medical conditions at once presents additional challenges, and physicians who work with older patients have to keep a close eye on their treatment progress to ensure there are no complications. Some of the features of geriatric care typically include:
- Addressing diseases that are more common in older adults – Decline in organ function is not common in younger adults, but in seniors, it is expected to some degree. This can lead to chronic conditions, such as renal impairment. Chronic disease in older adults often includes features such as incontinence, immobility and impaired intellect. Dementia, for example, is a hugely impacting mental condition that requires a quick response and involved treatment. Doctors are skilled at performing this level of care.
- Providing close oversight regarding a patient’s well-being – The goal of the family doctor is to preserve a patient’s health as long as possible, as good health means good quality of life. This means providing insight into what a patient can do to maintain their health, and prescribing medications that can help keep a patient’s health in balance.
- Referring patients to specialists that can provide further support – Older patients may have healthcare needs that extend beyond the Primary Care Physician. It is up to the primary care doctor to identify when or if a specialist is needed to provide this support. Ideally, a Primary Care Physician is the key cog in a patient’s healthcare team, ensuring that their patient is getting all the testing and treatment they need from other doctors.
- Managing symptoms of chronic illness – Pain, lack of mobility, shortness of breath and other constant symptoms may feel like they are just part of aging, but they can be mitigated to an extent with proper care. A General Practitioner is not just focused on keeping their patients healthy. They are also focused on keeping their patients comfortable.
- Protecting patients from dangerous drug complications – Again, older patients may have several conditions they have to deal with, and this may mean taking several medications to treat those conditions. Medications don’t always go well together, which is why elderly patients are at an increased risk of suffering from serious drug complications. In fact, hospitalization rates for serious drug interactions among the elderly are nearly 20 percent, signifying a need for close monitoring of any prescribed drugs. A doctor must lead the way in this monitoring, keeping tabs on everything their patient is taking, and acting when a patient is at risk of suffering from complications.
- Spotting disease before it progresses – Disease presentation in older adults is unlike that in younger adults and children. What may be a minor issue in a younger person, such as a fever, may signal something more serious in an older patient, and may lead to more serious complications. The doctor has to be particularly vigilant when their patients present with new symptoms, as it may point to something that requires further attention.
Proper geriatric care emphasizes all of these points, for every patient. Maintaining health during advanced age takes a major commitment from healthcare providers, and Primary Care Physicians are equipped to provide just that.