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Geriatricians: Help Boost Recovery

It’s Healthy Aging Month and that means there’s loads of great information on keeping seniors active and engaged!  We know that staying active and involved in the community is a great way to encourage social interaction with seniors.  However, with an increased level of activity our seniors may find that they are at greater risk for injuries due to falls and other accidents.

Unfortunately, when seniors experience a broken bone or other trauma, they recover more slowly than younger people. Though they hope to recover fully and regain their abilities and independence, this often does not happen. What can our healthcare system do to raise the odds of a successful recovery? Given the skyrocketing cost of long-term care, this is an important question!

A study from University of Michigan found one vital ingredient of the fight against injury-related disability: geriatricians. A research team led by University of Michigan Medical School professor Dr. Lillian Min looked at the outcomes of a group of elder patients who had suffered traumatic injuries. The patients had been injured in falls, or in automobile accidents, as the driver, a passenger or a pedestrian.

Dr. Min and her team found that patients who had received care from a geriatrician were two-thirds more likely to be able to return to independence in regular daily activities, such as walking, bathing, housework, managing finances and shopping for items they needed.
“Trauma surgeons have long struggled with the fragility of their older trauma patients, who have much greater health risks for the same injuries experienced by younger patients,” said Dr. Min. “We’ve come a long way in improving the survival rates of these patients but what we didn’t know was whether we were returning them to their homes and communities sicker than they were before. What we found was that geriatric interventions helped older patients take better care of themselves and be more independent.”

Why did adding a geriatrician to the care team make such a difference? According to the study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Surgery, geriatrics specialists helped the patients avoid unnecessary medications, as well as drugs that aren’t appropriate for seniors. The geriatricians also were able to prescribe an appropriate physical rehabilitation program. They helped patients avoid hospital delirium, a temporary condition causing hallucinations and confusion that also can cause permanent cognitive damage. And the geriatricians were savvy about the importance of a patient’s home environment and access to caregiving help after discharge.

“This information compels us to do more to help our older patients get back to normal life,” said Dr. Min. “Our findings suggest that even small changes in care can lead to decreased complications and improve health outcomes for a vulnerable group. We have a responsibility to do what we can to strengthen collaborations between surgery and geriatric medicine doctors.”

Despite the rapid growth of our senior population, not enough medical students are choosing to specialize in the needs of older adults, says the American Geriatrics Society. Yet according to the University of Michigan experts, 40 percent of trauma patients are older than age 65—underscoring the importance of making the recruitment of new geriatrics specialists a top goal of our nation’s healthcare system.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise reporting on a study from University of Michigan Health System.

Read more about the study here.

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