These days there’s a lot of health information available online. But most of it is not geriatrics health information. This means it may not be a good fit for you, if you’re worried about the health and wellbeing of an aging person.
How is geriatrics health information different, and why should you look for it? To answer this question, it helps to start by understanding just what geriatrics is.
What is geriatrics?
Just as pediatrics exists because children need healthcare that’s adapted to fit with what happens when we’re small and growing, geriatrics exists because aging minds and bodies benefit from a different approach, compared to what works well when we’re in the prime of adulthood.
I like to say that geriatrics means healthcare that has been properly adapted to fit with what tends to happen as people get older. (Gerontology, by the way, is the study of aging. Geriatrics is the branch of medicine that specializes in aging.)
Here’s a short list of what happens health-wise as people age:
- The mind and body become more vulnerable. This means that people become more sensitive to things like stress, injuries, illnesses, and medication side-effects.
- Multiple chronic illnesses. Most chronic illnesses become more common as people age. As people get older, it’s not uncommon to have 3 or more chronic health conditions. These can have overlapping symptoms and sometimes interact. Also, people often end up with a lot of pills and self-healthcare to manage.
- Chronic impairments of the body or mind. Eventually many people have some part of the body or mind that doesn’t work as well as it used to. Although some problems can be treated or reversed, most older adults eventually develop chronic difficulties that require them and their families to change things somewhat.
- Geriatric syndromes. These include problems such as falls, incontinence, pain, and declines in independence. They are common in aging adults and usually are related to a combination of the three factors listed above.
- Chronic caregiver involvement. Most people, as they age, will eventually get help from family or others in managing some of their health and life tasks.
The specialty of geriatrics developed because doctors realized that a different approach is needed, when older adults start to be affected by the issues above.
For instance, when an older person has multiple chronic illnesses, it really doesn’t work to treat each condition in isolation, as if the other problems don’t exist. Also, serious illnesses, such as a urinary tract infection or a heart attack, can cause different symptoms in an aging person, compared with a younger person.
In geriatrics, we look for the factors above. And then we either help people minimize those problems, or at least we modify anything else we’re doing so that it fits with a person’s health and life situation.
Last but not least, geriatrics emphasizes helping aging adults maintain their abilities and quality-of-life. This can be tricky as people get older, because people tend to accumulate health problems that are hard to entirely cure or reverse.
Still, there is often lots that can be done to “optimize” an older person’s health, so that he or she can make the best of life. Through this website, you can learn some of the ways that we in geriatrics often try to optimize the health of an older adult.
Ready for some geriatrics health information? You can start with the Popular Topics page, or simply visit the Geriatrics for Caregivers Blog.
Wondering if you are a caregiver who needs geriatrics health information? Visit “Are You A Caregiver?”