“Be Your Own Geriatrician”

“Be Your Own Geriatrician” that was the title of the Community Meeting at the Buck Institute on Aging in Novato, California. There were about 300 folks there invited because we gave some money to the Institute at some point. The two speakers were from UCSF Medical School, both were Geriatricians, John Newman and Victoria Wang, also both were MDs with advanced graduate degrees, research doctors.

Their basic message was – Geriatricians are scarce, older adults are many and growing in number. Elders therefore need to be their own geriatrician – not really news since all of us need to be mindful of our health throughout our lives. But this mindfulness has not always been the case and we are still learning how to be our own best health care specialist.

The talk included a list of the most common problems of older adults, known as Geriatric Syndromes.

  • Bladder Control
  • Sleep Problems
  • Delirium
  • Dementia
  • Falls
  • Osteoporosis
  • Weight Loss

As they went through the list I recognized that we have a family member with all the problems. A handout gave the list of each problem with a corresponding list of suggestions labeled “what should you do?” In each case we have already taken the steps suggested… all to no avail in our case, sadly.

Although most of the problems were familiar, for me the term delirium was a new one in the context of the elderly. It turns out that many elderly suffer with delirium, especially after surgery while in the hospital. The more problematic and sometimes intermittent is the delirium of elderly with dementia. And those with dementia complicated by lewy bodies tend to be troubled by dementia more than others with cognitive loss. And that is the type of dementia our family member has.

But what about the rest of us? As John Newman looked around the 200+ people in the comfortable theater he said, “If I asked who in this room would be included in the geriatric group? I am guessing you would think ‘Not me’, but nodding to your left or right you would think “But probably this guy’”. My guess in 99% of the people in that room met the geriatric definition – anyone 65 or older is considered geriatric. In Marin County the 2010 census put the median age in Marin County at 44.5 years, highest in the Bay Area and nine years older than the state average of 35.2. Of the total population of 252,409 of the County, 42,152 persons or 16.7% were 65 years old or more. I am guessing that today the ratio is even greater than in 2010.

I knew personally someone who was her own geriatrician, my mother Mary Daley. She had a busy, active life. She married my Dad, had 3 children and during World War II Dad was in the During that time Mother worked in a garment factory making Navy pea jackets. She became a union organizer for the ILGWU, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and remained working after the war. While we were growing up she was only working woman on our block. She was loving and always great fun. From the 1950s onward she did the Canadian Royal Mounted Police workout every morning, saying that after she turned 90 she shortened the routine. After she retired at 65 she worked as a volunteer, often cooking at her Community Center for “older people”. Each year after Dad died in 1978 she would spend three months with us in San Rafael from mid-December to mid-March to escape the cold and to be part of our family. She would tell people she always had a “two crocus spring”, she would see the crocuses come up in January in San Rafael and in mid-March she had them in her garden in New Jersey.The Beauty.jpg

The photo above shows Mother at 20 while living in Manhattan along with thousands of other refugees from the countryside trying to find work. At 18 she moved from Saint Clair, Pennsylvainia and found work at the Horn & Hardart where she met my father who was a manager there.

She died at 97 in 2008 after a short illness.

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On the planet in California

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