Working with the elderly isn't about death and dying -- it's about life
Geriatricians are medical doctors who specialize in the ailments of the
elderly. After other specialists have examined the patient, sometimes it takes
a geriatrician to understand the root of the problem. And that can make the
difference between a full productive life and simply being alive.
Geriatricians typically deal with memory loss, urinary incontinence, Alzheimer's
disease, osteoporosis and mental health issues such as depression.
As well, it's quite common for them to help get patients off medication.
By the time a patient gets to the geriatrician, they may be on as many as
15 different medications. Chronic fatigue, or even depression, may be the
Geriatricians can sometimes determine which medications are no longer necessary.
They may even prescribe alternative measures -- such as getting more exercise
-- to help the patient feel better.
Another factor that makes geriatrics so interesting is that the bulk of
health-care dollars are spent on the elderly. As a result, people involved
in geriatrics can end up working in a wide variety of settings -- research,
long-term care facilities, nursing homes, community center outreach programs,
public health units, hospitals and private practices.
There is also variety among the patients. Our bodies alter as we age, but
the effect of illness and disease varies tremendously. Doctors can't compare
one 87-year-old to another, as you would two 40-year-olds, because their bodies
are so different.
Dr. John Burton is a director of geriatrics at a hospital. "Today I probably
saw 10 patients," says Burton. "Many had dementia, diabetes and osteoporosis,
but there was an enormous variation in them because of the many ways of aging."
Unlike general practitioners, geriatricians end up working with a wide
variety of professionals in other disciplines -- nurses, social workers, community
health-care workers, and quite probably the patient's extended family or spouse.
When patients are discharged from hospital, they might need help from a
variety of agencies -- such as a private housekeeping service -- to have a
successful recovery. The geriatrician may be called on to help bring these