It's no surprise that as we age, health problems tend to pop up more often. Older adults encounter a variety of health risks, mostly stemming from the natural aging process of the human body—a unique combination of physiological changes and environmental factors over time. But there are ways to prevent or manage these problems so that you can enjoy a fruitful and functional life.
What is Geriatric Medicine?
Geriatric medicine, also known as geriatrics, is the field of medicine dealing with the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disease in older adults. Medical concerns in the later stages of life can range from minor issues like hearing loss to more severe conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. Patients meet with a geriatrics specialist to determine the best level of care needed at their particular stage of life.
How Does Geriatric Medicine Work?
While your primary care provider has the expertise to manage your health issues, some people over the age of 65 with complex medical issues may benefit from a consultation with a geriatric specialist or geriatrician, a professional who specializes in caring for older adults. Geriatricians have expertise in age-related conditions and illnesses and are trained to diagnose and treat minor and severe health problems, as well as counsel people on the best ways to treat and deal with these problems.
When encountering geriatric medicine, there is a concept called the 'geriatric giants’, a term coined in 1965 by Bernard Isaacs to refer to four major health issues that older adults experience: instability, incontinence, impaired memory, and immobility. Over the years, this term has modernized to encompass frailty, sarcopenia (decline in muscle mass), the anorexia of aging, and cognitive impairment. These are known today as the chronic disabilities of old age that affect the physical, mental, and social areas of older adults. While many of these are unavoidable, with proper attention and care, they can be improved.
Common Geriatric Problems
Geriatric Cognitive Decline
A notable condition in the elderly is cognitive decline. More specifically, mild cognitive impairment (MCI) refers to the middle period between normal, expected age-related and cognitive decline and full-blown dementia.
Mild cognitive decline manifests in occurrences of older people forgetting things easily or common instances of confusion. The condition is evident both to the individual and those in their lives.
Cognitive decline may also present with other symptoms, like depression, anxiety, aggression, and even apathy.
How do you treat cognitive decline?
There is currently no medication used to combat mild cognitive decline entirely. Treatment for cognitive impairment generally includes a regimen of exercise and healthy eating habits.
"A great way of combating cognitive decline is through activities, physical training and practices that improve your health overall," says Dr. Chandana Pande, a Summit Health internist who specializes in geriatric medicine.
"While partaking in healthy diet changes and certain exercises shows promise in stemming the tide of dementia, mild cognitive impairment still presents medical uncertainties."
Geriatric Balance Issues
A prominent and perilous factor of aging is losing your balance. A common cause of injury amongst the aging is falling and issues related to poor coordination. In fact, falls are one of the leading causes of accidental deaths in the aging population.
The elderly can reduce the risk of falling by discussing various health care options with nurses and physicians, such as getting their hearing and vision tested, engaging in regular physical exercise, limiting alcohol consumption, using walkers, getting proper nutrients through a healthy diet, and getting ample sleep.
Geriatric Heart Disease
A major cause of death in the elderly is heart disease. In those over the age of 65, things like high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, and heart attacks are serious issues that need close attention.
The best treatments for heart disease after the age of 65 are eating healthy, cholesterol and cardiac medications to reduce future risk, routine testing, and timely visits to a physician.
As you age, your bone mass and density lower considerably. As such, you're more likely to experience broken bones, especially when considering heightened fall risk.
Geriatricians have expertise helping patients reduce their risk of fractures due to osteoporosis.
"Screening for lower bone mass is a key part of comprehensive geriatric care,” says Dr. Pande. “Luckily, we can effectively treat this prevalent condition through a combination of healthy living and certain therapies, including vitamin supplements, and if necessary bone-strengthening medications.
Final Thoughts on Geriatrics
With age comes wisdom. However, age presents some serious concerns as well. That's why it's important to focus on overall well-being to improve the quality of life as the years go on.
For more information, call Summit Health at 908-273-4300.
Let Us Be Your Partner in Well-Being
At Summit Health, we care about our patients’ overall health. There are many reasons you may come in to visit with us, but we want to be sure you get the most out of every appointment. At your next visit, be sure to talk to your provider about appropriate screenings and necessary evaluations. And, if you are over the age of 65, you may want to discuss fall risk, bladder health, physical activity expectation, and mental health. Additionally, if you are having trouble affording your medications let your provider know. It’s important to have these conversations to stay on top of your health and minimize your risk of developing certain diseases.