A Geriatrician Explains the Importance of Care Geared Toward Older Patients

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Sara I. Ali, MD, Internal Medicine, Geriatrician, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton

About 15 percent of Americans are currently age 65 and older, according to the U.S. Census. By 2060, that number is expected to jump to about 25 percent. So there’s a pressing need for geriatricians — physicians who care for older adults. Here, Sara Ali, MD, a geriatrician at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) Hamilton, explains how patients benefit from these physicians.

How are geriatricians different from primary care physicians?

We treat chronic conditions that affect patients of all ages, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. But we also treat health problems that tend to affect the elderly, including dementia, movement disorders like Parkinson’s disease, and frequent falls. We spend more time with patients during office visits than primary care physicians are able to — 30 to 45 minutes instead of 15 minutes.

What health problems do you see most often in older patients?

“Polypharmacy” is a huge problem. This occurs when patients are prescribed too many medications by different doctors. Not only can this cause drug interactions, which can lead to side effects like falls and confusion, but patients become frustrated and sometimes want to stop taking their medications. I help them understand which medications are most important and which ones they can stop. Other common conditions include memory problems, mood disorders like depression — which, in a geriatric population, often stems from a lack of socialization — and frailty.

How do geriatricians fit in with the hospital’s Better Health program?

Better Health, which provides education, social activities, support groups, exercise classes, and membership benefits for those ages 65 and better, is part of a larger initiative to build a comprehensive geriatrics program to improve seniors’ quality of life. Better Health is part of our outpatient geriatrics practice. Health coaches educate patients about their screening and treatment options through lectures and seminars.

Join Better Health for free and discover the benefits of membership. Call 609-584-5900 or visit www.rwjbh.org/hamiltonbetterhealth.

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