By Dr. Richard Orlan
The future of aging is now!
Hollywood and fiction writers are producing some interesting television programs and movies with themes and story lines about aging and managing chronic disease these days. Some are compassionate, like The Big C, which follows a woman with terminal cancer as she goes through the trials and tribulations in her relationships while she’s fighting her disease. Some are chilling, like the movie Repo Men, set in a not-so-distant future where human organs can be bought on credit, but can also taken back like a vehicle when someone misses payments. As an internist specializing in geriatric and palliative medicine, I have been drawn to Torchwood, the sci-fi TV drama about what happens after Miracle Day; which is the day where people have stopped dying, but if you were diseased or debilitated, that’s where you stay, you just don’t die. So the whole world has to retrench itself in terms of dealing with people that aren’t dying but could be chronically ill.
Fact follows fiction, as the saying goes. These plots are close enough to reality to be educational and concerning at a time when the population of the United States is poised to have the largest recorded number of senior citizens in its history. Statistics from the government’s Administration on Aging reveal a little more than 12 percent of the current population is over the age of 65. By 2030 the over 65 population forecast will rise to 19 percent nationwide. The Southern Vermont Area Health Education Center reports that here in Windham County we’ll surpass that figure by 2016. Imagine one out of every five people you know having reached the presently accepted age of retirement, with all the health-related concerns and issues that go with it.
Given these numbers, it’s no surprise the field of geriatric medicine is expanding in scope. Geriatrics was developed as a specialty within the field of internal medicine in much the same way the care of infants and children also known as pediatrics grew out of family medicine. We’ve learned that older people have specific issues, and so by focusing specifically on some of those needs we can provide more successful care and outcomes.
The aging process by definition isn’t a disease, it’s just a fact. There’s a whole science of healthy aging and the opportunities that people have to slow down the process. Our focus is to try to be good resources and guides, as well as a gauge whether there are better choices out there for our patients as they interact with ancillary services that are provided in our community either nutritional, rehabilitative, or something else.
Old habits die hard!
A lot of people do things certain ways because that’s how they’ve always done it. For Windham County, the main risk factors center on lifestyle choices, education, and costs. Our seasonal changes and extremes of temperature are also important to consider as we move into the colder seasons. If you plan on being out in a hunting stand in 30 degree or less weather for hours at a time and you don’t prepare for it, you’re not going to have a successful hunting season. If you heat your home with dry heat sources, like wood stoves, and don’t humidify the air, you will end up with a lot of upper airway and sinus problems. If you’re used to running around in your shorts in the middle of winter when you were young and foolish and you think you can continue to do that as an older person, your body is going to wake you up one day and tell you it’s not a good thing to do. Preparation is the key to success.
The future of geriatric care includes the number and aging of the primary care providers. This community has some wonderful practitioners who have cared for seniors and older folks for many years. Some have even accumulated geriatric credentials over time.
Earlier this year, BMH welcomed Andrea Galasso, D.O. to the medical staff. Located in the Gannett Building, Dr. Galasso is board-certified in geriatric medicine and accepting new patients. We share the common goal of providing exceptional care for our patients in the alternative level of care settings they require beyond their acute temporary stay as inpatients, while maintaining primary care settings on the campus of the Hospital.
Some patients don’t prepare adequately for the ever changing evolution of their care providers, so that when it happens they’re surprised. The public has the ability to force the system to be more responsive and take more responsibility for sharing information. As much as we are trying to facilitate the sharing of medical records through electronic means in this day and age, a person should not assume that all their information has somehow migrated to their providers without participating in the process to make sure.
We can have a huge impact on quality of life and outcomes as patients age if we’re given enough information. We look forward to the future and working with you.
Dr. Richard Orlan practices and is board certified in internal medicine, geriatrics, and hospice and palliative care whose office is at Windham Internal Medicine in the Medical Office Building at BHM. He is also the medical director for The Thompson House, Pine Heights, and Vernon Green skilled nursing facilities.