Sometime late in my more than 20-year journey of caring for my aging mother, I was struggling to manage her multiplying health problems, juggling an assortment of medications and therapies, and dealing with the challenge of driving her to treatment appointments all over town while working a full-time job. I shared this as an aside during a post-exam chat with my own physician (I have wrestled with Crohn’s Disease for over 30 years…). She suggested that I might want to look into getting my mom a geriatrician. I did, and it was a revelation.
Suddenly (and gratefully), Mom had a doctor who was not just looking at this or that symptom and prescribing interventions based on the limited scope of a particular specialty. The geriatrician considered all the aspects of her physical, mental, and emotional factors, plus her habits and preferences, social and family circumstances. She evaluated the need to remain on medications that had been prescribed for years, eliminating several of them and replacing others with better choices. The upshot: Over time, Mom’s health, comfort, and attitude improved markedly, despite the steady physical toll of aging.
Before too long it occurred to me that I was at a point in life when having the advice and expertise of a geriatrician for my own health might be a good idea. So, I signed up. It was one of the best health decisions I have ever made. But sadly, there are far too few geriatricians being produced to meet growing demand by our aging population. According to Paula Span, the noted writer on eldercare issues, we are on a course to have only about 25 percent of the geriatricians we will eventually need. I am so glad I was an early convert. The discovery of this vital but little-known specialty for older patients was one of my lucky days. If you or the person you care for are over 65 and can find a geriatrician, I recommend you get one…now.