Just exactly what is a geriatrician and when are you considered old enough to consult a geriatrician?
Harvard Medical School’s Health Letter published comments from Dr. Suzanne Salamon after she was added to the editorial board. She’s associate chief for geriatric clinical programs at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and just the person to answer those questions.
In This Article
Geriatrician is a doctor that specializes in caring for patients who are 65 years old and older.
Geriatricians are board certified in internal medicine and have received extensive training in issues relating to aging and senior medical conditions. Geriatricians are considered specialists as they can better address multiple aging-related issues like memory loss, mobility, depression, osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s Disease.
A Geriatrician uses his or her expertise to develop a care plan for patients 65 and older to help improve the senior function successfully and delay disability by providing consistent care, thus improving quality of life.
When should someone see a geriatrician? Do most seniors need a geriatrician?
The vast majority of seniors are doing just fine with their own internal medicine doctor. We tend to see senior patients who have many medical problems, are seeing multiple specialists and are taking many medications. This can get complicated and difficult to coordinate, so some doctors feel their patients should see a geriatrician, a doctor who specializes in caring for patients 65 and older.
The definition of geriatrics, which is care of patients over age 65, is probably going to change to care of older, frailer people. The average age of our patients is 82.
You said there are not that many geriatricians in the country. People would think there would be many geriatricians as the population is living longer, our senior population is growing.
There are 9,000 geriatricians in the United States, and actually our number is dropping. Geriatrics is actually the lowest-paid specialty in internal medicine, and it is also very time consuming. There is a lot of paperwork and calls for patients and their children.
Dr. Suzanne Salamon, do you have a philosophy about how to stay healthy as you age?
The more you keep active, the better. Whether you exercise on your own, dance to music or videos, go to the senior center and join an exercise class or walk – it doesn’t matter as long as you are moving. People are living longer. The problems of falling, of memory loss, of osteoporosis are more important.
Is memory loss the biggest fear of aging?
We probably will see more and more people with this problem, and many doctors will say that’s normal with aging. And lots of time that is true.
About 50 percent of memory loss is real dementia. Not just slowing down in memory. There is tremendous fear, more than there used to be. We don’t yet know what causes it – or how to prevent Alzheimer’s.
Sometimes it is true that people forget, but Alzheimer’s is a real disease and it’s important to plan for that as a potential in your future. Don’t try to live by yourself or take care of yourself if you are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Vascular disease causes about 25 percent of the other cognitive decline in older Americans. By vascular disease, I mean disease that inflames and clogs up blood vessels that supply the brain. And in many cases, we can prevent that or at least keep it from getting worse. The main thing seniors can do about vascular disease is to get their blood pressure under good control. The top number should be below 140. Cholesterol has to be controlled and for many people, a baby aspirin a day can help.
What about exercising the brain with crossword puzzles or so on? Do you think that helps?
I don’t. But I do believe the brain should be kept active. Being social is associated with less depression, and depression can make cognitive decline worse.
You said old age is not depressing?
I think that’s how many people view aging. You see people with canes and walkers. It all looks like such hard work. But surveys have found there is actually less depression among older people than commonly believed.
What advice do you have for seniors?
Older people should establish a health care proxy who can make medical decisions for them. And if a parent is already cognitively impaired, it is very helpful if someone comes to the appointments with them.
Everybody will be old someday. Treat the aging as you would want to be treated.
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- Tips to Healthier Eating Habits
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About the Author:
Jane Glenn Haas is a multi-media personality – a newspaper writer, national columnist, book author, television host, professional speaker and founder of WomanSage, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering, educating and fostering mentoring relationships among women at midlife.
Jane has been twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, she has been honored for Excellence in Aging Reporting with the Hugh Downs Award of the International Longevity Center; the American Society on Aging Media Award; the American Medical Writers Association Rose Kushner Award; the American Heart Association C. Everett Koop Award; the Alzheimer’s Association Rosemary Award, and many others.