Aging is a natural part of life. As patients advance through the aging process, they may need to consider seeking geriatric care. This branch of medicine is particularly helpful for people managing multiple chronic conditions, or who are beginning to experience age-related health complications that threaten to become impediments to daily life.
Doctors who specialize in geriatrics — who are usually board-certified in internal medicine — receive specialized training in medical school to learn how to administer elder care. Geriatricians aim to provide treatment recommendations that are tailored to the specific needs of older adults. Their specialized training sets them apart from the primary care physicians for younger adults.
Common Issues for Older Adults
Older adults experience certain conditions at higher rates than others. Mild problems like impaired vision or hearing, muscle atrophy, heart disease, and the functional decline of various organ systems are all to be expected.
While most of these can have an effect on overall quality of life, they are not inherently life threatening. With a good medical care plan in place, aging patients stand a good chance at preserving their well being.
There are some particular conditions to monitor, however. There is no set age for when these conditions — collectively known as the “geriatric giants” — begin to appear. But as patients leave middle age and enter old age, it is important for doctors to have a treatment plan under consideration so that a minor problem does not become more severe. They are:
- Impared memory or intellect
Each of these conditions can lead to a host of other complications, and in some cases, they may require specialized care.
Adult vs. Geriatric Medicine
The bodies of geriatric patients are physiologically different from those of their juniors. Below are some of the most significant considerations.
Multiple Medical Conditions
As we age, we are more likely to develop medical issues. In fact, a significant portion of the elderly population is managing multiple medical disorders at the same time. This can complicate the care plan for elderly patients — as different conditions begin to take root, it becomes more difficult for a primary care physician to accurately attribute symptoms to one condition or another.
Furthermore, certain medical conditions can have a greater effect on elderly persons, such that seemingly isolated health issues can lead to more complex conditions.
Oftentimes, geriatric doctors combat these complications with multiple medications. But between holistic medicine to over-the-counter drugs to prescriptions, it can be challenging for a geriatric doctor to understand the full scope of pharmacology for their elderly patients.
Sometimes they are also inclined to rely on their medical specialties to prescribe medication, but that can lead them to provide medical advice that is more focused on a single area, as opposed to taking the patient’s total health situation into account. This can affect older adults by contributing to adverse interactions between medications.
Non-Linear Presentation of Symptoms
Not only can it be difficult to know which symptoms stem from which condition, but it can also be difficult to even know what to look for. Older patients may exhibit symptoms that, taken at face value, do not appear to be connected with their health conditions.
For example, if an elderly person falls, it may not be obvious that the root cause is something like pneumonia and not a balance issue that is common to the aging process. In geriatric medicine, primary care doctors, urgent care physicians, medical students, social workers, and other caregivers all need to be attuned to these possibilities so that older adults can get the care they need.
Another challenge is that older adults can begin to exhibit cognitive impairment, and that can lead to underreported symptoms, difficulties in describing symptoms in a way can lead to misdiagnosis, and lapses in managing their health plans.
Beyond the physiological, some key differences that make treating geriatric patients different from treating older adults — with particular respect to their decision-making abilities — are:
- Powers of attorney
- Privacy issues
- Legal responsibilities
- Advance directives
- Informed consent
Especially in cases where older adults are experiencing cognitive decline, patients may lose some of their ability to advocate for themselves. In these situations, a geriatric doctor may be more engaged with the family than they would in the case of a younger person.
It is also important to acknowledge elder abuse. In addition to the physiological and policy-based challenges facing elderly patients, an unfortunate reality is that elderly people can also face hostile caregivers. It is imperative that geriatric doctors and other physicians are looking for signs that this may be a factor in what they are observing.
Elderly Approaches to Family Medicine
There are many forms of elder care that are available to patients today, and for informational purposes, the American Geriatrics Society is an excellent place for older adults to find valuable resources. And while nursing homes are a common venue for geriatrics, an increasing number of patients are receiving elder care at home.
The Benefits of Home Health Care
Home health care can have a huge impact on an aging patient’s ability to maintain good health and quality of life. As the name suggests, medical service providers — nurses, physicians, and other licenced medical professionals administer elder care at the patient’s home. They can also receive social services that can help them manage day-to-day tasks. Qualifying services can include:
- Infusion therapy
- Medication management
- Nursing care
- Nutrition services
- Pain management
- Physical, occupational, or speech therapy
- Psychiatric services
- Social work
Another benefit of home health care is that hospital care is usually more expensive. The cost of frequent in-person visits can add up quickly, which makes this form of elder care an appealing option. Furthermore, patients often demonstrate greater levels of independence and self-sufficiency when their treatment is administered at their place of residence.
In addition to the benefits of receiving care in the place where they are most comfortable, there is also the matter of convenience. Aging patients often have more difficulty getting around, so not having to make in-person visits to the hospital (except in the case of an emergency) or rely on a doctor’s office hours in order to meet with their providers face-to-face is hugely helpful.
From physical therapy to treatment for Alzheimer’s to managing chronic health conditions, home health care goes a long way in making medical support accessible for aging patients.
If you or someone you know is due to consider geriatric medicine, it is important to understand how it is different from the care typically provided to younger adults. Above all, aging people need to be able to preserve their quality of life.
Knowing what potential health challenges lie ahead can help you find a geriatrician you trust to provide treatment for any issues that arise. These doctors are usually board-certified in family medicine or internal medicine, and they have received further education to gain special knowledge and additional training that helps with treating aging patients.
Keystone Health is Idaho’s leading housecall provider. With a focus on a patient’s quality of life, we take a holistic approach to helping older adults manage their health care needs. Our team of interdisciplinary specialists and providers will make sure that all of your needs are met. Learn more about how we can help with your health care needs today.