What should docs know about treating older patients?

    America’s 78 million baby boomers are turning 65 at a rate of one every 10 seconds. Many experts warn that the country’s healthcare system is not ready to deal with their medical needs.

    For example, not enough psychiatrists are trained to work with older patients — an issue addressed at the American Psychiatric Association conference in Philadelphia this week.

    University of Florida geriatric psychiatrist Josepha Cheong says she often gets the same question: “Why do people need extra training? Isn’t a 65 year old just an older 30 year old?”

    Not really, says Cheong. For example, older patients metabolize medicine differently. “Technically, we are older by the age of 55, because physiologically, we show significant changes in metabolism in terms of how the liver and the kidneys clear medication out of the body,” said Cheong.

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    Depression and anxiety can also look different in older patients. Dementia becomes an issue — and with it often agitation or aggression that can be tough to treat.

    Cheong is one of only 2,300 geriatric psychiatrists in the country. She says most older adults seeking psychiatric help will be treated by a doctor with no special training.

    To help train her colleagues, Cheong has prepared a top ten list of issues that all psychiatrists will increasingly encounter in their offices. Her lecture at the APA conference was standing room only. Cheong isn’t just interested in making other psychiatrists more aware of geriatric issues – she wants to spread the word among all healthcare professionals.

    “I even tell my students who are going into pediatrics , you think you’re not going to deal with geriatrics but you will. A lot of the kids who will come into your clinics – guess who is going to bring them?” she said.

    Cheong says many kids are being raised by their grandparents – so if the grandparents have health or cognitive issues, it will impact the children.

    The APA conference in Philadelphia attracted several thousand psychiatrists from all over the world.

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