Ask the Doctor: Dr. Harvey Gross

With age comes wisdom—and adjustment. We all want to have a good quality of life, function at the highest level possible, and age gracefully and with health. Though this requires some lifestyle changes as the years go by, we should strive to be active and continue to involve ourselves with family, friends, and community, regardless of age.

I’m getting older and my children are encouraging me to see a geriatrician. What are the advantages compared to seeing my regular primary care doctor?

Dr. Gross: Geriatricians are specialists in diseases of aging; we provide continuity of care for patients 65 to 100-plus. As geriatricians, we have a greater awareness and sensitivity to the complex needs of the older person. We understand that older patients frequently have co-existing chronic conditions, see multiple specialists and may be on numerous medications—that each patient has their own spectrum of health issues.

How is geriatric care tailored to meet specific patient needs?

Dr. Gross: When patients come to our office, we recognize that they are older and we keep that in mind. We have special electric exam tables that raise and lower so patients can easily reach the table. As geriatricians, we are helping patients understand, and adjust to, the concept of getting older, and dealing with issues of aging. My focus is to enable each patient to have the best quality of life possible, regardless of age.

Aside from fleeting aches and pains, what should I be concerned about as I get older?

Dr. Gross: A lot of patients are concerned about potential loss of control and independence. They often seek clarification on whether they are experiencing symptoms of natural aging or something more serious. One of the major fears of growing older is the development of memory loss. A geriatrician helps distinguish between normal aging versus the onset of dementia. Hearing loss is also common as people get older, but many patients deny loss of hearing to avoid using hearing aids—even though they improve quality of life. Many also worry about losing the freedom to drive, but it is critically important to evaluate whether driving is safe for the patient and others on the road.

Why is it important to discuss common health issues from a geriatric standpoint?

Dr. Gross: Sometimes a fall is not just a fall, but a sign of an underlying medical issue such as loss of muscle strength or gait imbalance. Patients tend to deny and minimize why they fell, but, as geriatricians, we strive to address the issues that may cause falling and try to prevent further falls. Medications may also play a significant role as they can have interactions and are metabolized differently as patients age. Over-the-counter medications and herbal supplements need to be taken into consideration as they often interact with prescribed medication. Benefits must outweigh the risks. This also applies with screening and vaccination.

Posted December 2018

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