After a few interactions colleagues and patients almost always ask me how I ended up working in geriatrics. From patients the question comes with the baggage of their previous experiences in health care and from colleagues it is tinged with trepidation and is quickly followed up with “…but isn’t it hard?” I give them both the same answer, more or less, and hopefully satisfy curiosity while educating honestly.
By the time people reach senior years, they often have a solid sense of who they are. This actually makes my job a lot easier...
Sense of self
: By the time people reach senior years, they often have a solid sense of who they are. This actually makes my job a lot easier because they tell me quite clearly what they are and are not willing to do. For one patient herbs are fine, but putting wet socks on their feet at night is not, while another might cheerfully meditate daily and drink heaps of teas, but not be willing to take a capsule.
: With age can come clarity and patients tend to be more up front than my younger patients. If a patient has been smoking a cigar every day for the last 30 years he doesn’t hide it, or if 3 martinis before dinner and half a bottle of wine with the meal is the norm, that is announced matter-of-factly at the first office visit.
: I hear nearly daily from patients that other medical providers have told them “what do you expect at your age?” or “that’s just because you’re getting old” when they bring their concerns to the office. When each issue is listened to, addressed, and treated respectfully (even when the answer is “I’m not sure what we can do” or “This may help for awhile, but a permanent solution isn’t out there yet” they are relieved and happy to be treated as a patient, not as an old person.
Yes, treating these patients can be more challenging than your average 2-year-old with an ear infection or 40-year-old with hypertension, but the rewards are manifold. Changes can and do happen with our therapeutics, perhaps not quite as rapidly or intensely, but with tremendous satisfaction on the part of patient and physician. You don’t need a specialty practice to treat elders, just an open heart.