Geriatric Medicine is a specialty that focuses on health concerns faced by older persons and aims to promote healthy ageing, optimize health and independence, and minimize disability.
The geriatrician is trained to recognize the issues faced by older persons and is especially adept at recognizing the nuances of multiple coexistent illnesses that older persons often present with. It is well recognized that older persons are more likely to suffer from multiple chronic diseases such as diabetes mellitus, hypertension, ischaemic heart disease and neurological conditions such as strokes and Parkinson’s disease. By extension, it is thus not surprising that older persons with multiple ailments often end up seeing multiple doctors and having to take a large number of different medications. Further to this, illnesses in older persons often present in atypical fashion, partly because of physiological changes arising from the ageing process, and partly because of the interaction of the multiple conditions and medications. As such many conditions faced by frail older persons are often missed or dismissed (as an inevitable part pf ageing), when in fact these situations may often be amenable to treatment. Examples of such conditions include episodes of confusion or forgetfulness, worsening mobility or difficulty walking, increasing “weakness” and progressive loss of appetite.
The geriatric medical consultation seeks to unravel the complexities that underlie the complaints that frail older persons present with e.g. an older person presenting with worsening confusion and drowsiness may in fact be suffering from a simple infection or an over-dosing of medications intended for helping with sleep and hypertension, while a complaint of poor appetite and nausea may in fact be due to side effects of medications for regulating heart rhythms. The geriatrician also seeks to directly address and counter many of the myths that come with ageing and helps the patient take a holistic approach to tackling his or her problems, that includes consideration of the patient’s psychosocial concerns as well as his or her personal aspirations.
Just as paediatric medicine is a specialty that involves specially trained physicians to identify, treat and manage the special health needs of children, geriatric medicine is a well-established specialty that involves specially trained physicians who are well-acquainted with the special needs of older person and who are able to identify, treat and manage these needs in a holistic manner.