What Is Geriatric Medicine?
Geriatric medicine is a unique approach to primary healthcare focused on the needs of older adults. How is geriatrics different from other healthcare?
- Our primary focus is to maximize our patient’s function.
- Second, we seek to balance quality of life issues with the risks of any possible tests or treatments. Many tests can be quite uncomfortable and pose their own risks.
- Third, we try to keep people in their home environments as much as possible. This means avoiding unnecessary hospitalizations, as hospitals can actually be a dangerous place for older individuals.
Our duty is to recognize the special needs of older adults. We must listen to all of our patient’s complaints, because even a subtle one can indicate a greater problem. This means that patient visits should not be rushed. The older population, more than any other group of patients, needs to know that we, their doctors, are there for them at all times. The geriatrician also has a responsibility to ensure that our staff appreciates and acts on the specialized needs of older individuals.
Much of what we Americans typically consider “normal aging” is really not normal at all. There are very few complaints from older adults that actually warrant a response of “it’s just because you’re aging” from a physician. In fact, even when a problem is a part of the normal aging process, it should be discussed in a constructive fashion with the intention of seeking alternatives to maximize function and quality of life.
What allows a doctor to call him/herself a geriatrician? First, one can complete a fellowship in geriatric medicine after residency. Second, the Academy of Internal Medicine sponsors an examination in the specialty of geriatric medicine. Do all doctors who complete a fellowship or pass this test make good geriatricians? Not necessarily—it has a great deal to do with attitude toward older adults and a particular style of practicing medicine. At IPC/Senior Care of Colorado, we train all of our providers in the geriatric care model: physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners alike. Therefore, we refer to all of these special folks as "geriatric providers."
The common denominator among those who choose to practice in the field of geriatric medicine is an underlying compassion and concern for seniors that transcends all other factors. And that is truly what being a geriatrician is all about.