What is the geriatric approach?
If you are involved in the health care of an older adult, it’s good to know about the geriatric approach to better care for the elderly.
As people age, most reach a point at which many aspects of daily life are challenged by problems with physical health, brain health, or both. The geriatric approach is dedicated to helping older people maintain the best quality of life, physical function, and mental function possible.
In particular, we geriatricians believe that good medical care at this stage of life requires an understanding of the person’s health as a whole, including:
- The person’s living situation, and how the person has been managing the tasks of daily life
- The family and caregiver relationships that influence the person’s emotional life, and that often help with medical and personal care
- The person’s overall physical and mental function, and how that’s been changing over recent months
- The many chronic illnesses a person may be diagnosed with, and how they interact with each other
- The person’s hopes and expectations regarding the future
When I practice medicine as a geriatrician, I combine a whole-person evaluation with extra knowledge on how illnesses affect older adults. I’m also trained to evaluate and manage such geriatric syndromes as memory problems, falls, chronic pain, and incontinence — problems which often require a different approach in older patients compared to younger patients.
Too often, complex older patients can get caught up in a merry-go-round of medical appointments, while still feeling that their most important needs and concerns go unmet. They may be referred for excessive testing, or dismissed as “too old” and not offered something that really could help. They are often left taking too many medications that may be hardly beneficial, or that have harmful side-effects. Families and caregivers often struggle to manage chronic conditions and to solve problems of daily life, and wonder what to expect in the future.
If you have found yourself perplexed or frustrated by the medical challenges of aging, or of managing daily life as an elder, chances are great that a geriatric approach can help.
The ideal, of course, is to obtain medical care directly from a geriatrician. However, this often isn’t possible because geriatricians are in short supply.
So many family caregivers need to consider the next best thing: learning principles of geriatric care, and learning how to get better care from non-geriatricians. Through education and empowerment, caregivers can bring better quality of life and well-being to the lives of older people.
As of May 2014, I’ve moved all my geriatrics health information content to GeriatricsforCaregivers.net. Please visit!