Aging Matters:Strategies for Optimal Care of the Elderly

December 31, 2006

This recent headline succinctly summarizes a crisisof major proportions looming in the health carefield. According to the American Geriatrics Society,the fastest growing segment of the Americanpopulation consists of those who are 85 years andolder. Their numbers are expected to reach 19 million by2050. By 2020, more than 53 million Americans will be65 years or older. Many families will contain 2 generationsof geriatric patients.

"Elderly Patient Boom FacesSpecialist Shortage."1This recent headline succinctly summarizes a crisisof major proportions looming in the health carefield. According to the American Geriatrics Society,the fastest growing segment of the Americanpopulation consists of those who are 85 years andolder. Their numbers are expected to reach 19 million by2050. By 2020, more than 53 million Americans will be65 years or older. Many families will contain 2 generationsof geriatric patients.Because there will not be enough geriatricians to carefor this growing population, primary care clinicians will berequired to fill the gap. However, many elderly patients requirea different approach to care than their younger counterparts.For example, diseases frequently present with"atypical" manifestations in elderly persons, and comorbiditiesoften cloud the diagnostic picture. Moreover, treatmentapproaches that work well for younger patients mayhave disastrous consequences for older ones--as thecases on page 1461 illustrate.As baby boomers grow older--and as their parentslive well into their 80s and 90s--clinicians will need tolearn new ways to offer good care.But given the time pressures of office practice, wherecan you learn new strategies to help you determine whethera patient's symptoms are a normal part of aging--orwhether a more serious disorder underlies those symptoms?And where can you get information about whichmedications are likely to have an unfavorable outcome inan older person?We invite you to turn to "Aging Matters"--a neweditorial feature that makes its debut in this issue of CONSULTANT(page 1461). It is specifically designed as aforum in which you can quickly pick up diagnostic andtherapeutic tips for optimal care of the elderly. Thismonth, Dr Michele Iannuzzi-Sucich presents the cases of2 patients who sustained an identical injury in a car accidentand who were treated with the same medication.Why did treatment work well for the younger patient buthave a nearly fatal outcome for the older woman?Future columns will cover such topics as:

  • What constitutes a comprehensive geriatric assessment.
  • A common-sense approach to memory impairment.
  • How to avoid high-risk medications.

These and other "real-life" issues will form thebackbone of "Aging Matters" and, it is hoped, offer valuableguidelines in caring for a vulnerable--and growing--population.

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www.CNN.com./HEALTH/. Accessed August 28, 2003.