Geriatric medicine is the branch of medicine concerned with the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease in older people.

man riding golf cartAlso called geriatrics. It comes from the Greek “geron” meaning “old man” + “iatreia” meaning “the treatment of disease.” It addresses problems specific to aging such as stroke, heart attack, nutrition, arthritis and mobility, cognitive decline, dementia, and polypharmacy (managing multiple medications).

Most geriatric medicine is aimed at prevention strategies, health promotion, screening for age related disease such as colon and breast cancer, managing medications, and assessing for other vulnerabilities. Sometimes a geriatric assessment is performed if a problem is identified. This is a multidisciplinary assessment designed to evaluate a person’s functional ability, physical health, cognition, mental health, and socioenvironmental conditions. Specific components of physical health evaluated are nutrition, vision, hearing, fecal and urinary incontinence, and balance. Immunization status, the use of OTC drugs, vitamins, and herbal products will be explored. Immunity declines and puts seniors at risk for influenza, pneumonia, and other infections.

A nutritional assessment is important because inadequate intake of micronutrients is common in older persons. Studies have shown that vitamins A, C, D, and B12; calcium; iron; zinc; and other trace minerals are often deficient in the older population, even in the absence of other medical conditions.

One special focus is in the early diagnosis of dementia. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. More than 5 million people live with Alzheimer’s disease. It is the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S., and the 5th leading cause of death for seniors 65 and older. Two-thirds of seniors with Alzheimer’s are women.

Depression is a very common problem for the elderly and there are screening tests to detect an issue. People with chronic diseases often have depression as a result.