For those interested in medicine and/or geriatrics, this is an excellent article on the realities of aging and its care. Geriatrics is a struggling field with a patient base that will soon overwhelm the limited number of specialized professionals. We’re all doomed to age, but does that mean we’re destined for our final decades to be full of suffering?
Growing old means the breakdown of our bodies and our minds. But good specialized primary care can ensure that our elderly can enjoy the end of their lives and extend the “quality” years they have, merely by engaging with geriatricians who are trained to provide holistic treatment for a myriad of physical and mental problems. Geriatricians must exhibit great patience and care with each patient, never omitting even the most diminutive of detail. Examining a bad back, high blood pressure, arthritis, limited vision, shoulder pain, and dry mouth (yes, all in one patient) does not take precedent over the seemingly mundane examination of the feet. But as one doctor puts it, ‘“You must always examine the feet.” He described a bow-tied gentleman who seemed dapper and fit, until his feet revealed the truth: he couldn’t bend down to reach them, and they turned out not to have been cleaned in weeks, suggesting neglect and real danger.”
“We all like new medical gizmos and demand that policymakers make sure they are paid for. They feed our hope that the troubles of the body can be fixed for good. But geriatricians? Who clamors for geriatricians? What geriatricians do—bolster our resilience in old age, our capacity to weather what comes—is both difficult and unappealingly limited. It requires attention to the body and its alterations. It requires vigilance over nutrition, medications, and living situations. And it requires each of us to contemplate the course of our decline, in order to make the small changes that can reshape it. When the prevailing fantasy is that we can be ageless, the geriatrician’s uncomfortable demand is that we accept we are not.” (Page 3)
“I asked Chad Boult, the geriatrics professor now at Johns Hopkins, what can be done to insure that there are enough geriatricians for our country’s surging elderly population.“Nothing,” he said. “It’s too late.” Creating geriatricians takes years, and we already have far too few. This year, just three hundred doctors will complete geriatrics training, not nearly enough to replace the geriatricians going into retirement, let alone meet the needs of the next decade.” (Page 7)
How does this relate to neuroscience or psychology? There is a huge need for research efforts directed toward the geriatric population. You have an entire age group that suffers from undiagnosed mental illnesses, some receiving little to no care. There are geriatric psychiatry topics related to successful aging, cognitive function in aging, stress and coping for the elderly (particularly caregivers of spouses who have dementia), and studies on wisdom and resiliency. Also, brain imaging studies on the aging brain are key to understanding the basis of mental decline in various conditions, including “normal aging”.
With the Baby Boomer population soon reaching the ripe age of 65, it’s only a matter of time before we truly understand the importance of aging and how we can improve quality of elderly life.