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Published on January 12, 2018

A Day in the Life of a Geriatrician

Allison Ostroff, MD

Woke up, fell out of bed,
Dragged a comb across my head
Found my way downstairs and drank a cup,
and looking up I noticed I was late.

-Lennon/McCartney

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Every morning, I wake up and I wonder what my day will bring. Some days I am blessed to see healthy older adults in their 80s, 90s or even over 100. I have patients who are living on their own, thriving and enjoying all that life has to offer. Unfortunately, I also have patients who are suffering. They may have chronic illnesses such as congestive heart failure or diabetes and they may have newer illnesses such as cancer.

As a geriatrician, I am often asked to evaluate the cognitive function of patients and frequently diagnose and treat different forms of dementia. Many of these patients are older; however, some of these patients are what I consider young.

Elderly couple, smiling, with grandchildrenAn example is "Mr. S" whose wife called me recently, distraught that she could no longer take her 66-year-old husband out of the house. He has a rare form of dementia called primary progressive aphasia, a neurological condition in which language becomes slowly and progressively impaired. He refuses to get fully dressed and is now unable to control his bodily functions. Despite this reality, Mrs. S had such joy in her voice as her family’s holiday was wonderful. Mr. S was able to see his grandchildren and tickle the feet of his eight-month-old grandson. He spent quality time with his oldest eight-year-old grandson, and his two daughters were blessed to have what little piece of him there might be left at this gathering.

I offered Mrs. S a home visit in order to see her husband. Having a nurse practitioner working with me in our Geriatric Assessment Center enables us to provide the highest quality of care which includes things like these home visits. I have known Mr. and Mrs. S for about eight years and would be incredibly sad to stop providing his medical care. While Mrs. S is not my patient, a large part of geriatrics is caring for entire families and this is a prime example.

Today I not only saw patients but I was able to train my nurse practitioner in the art of geriatrics, prepare for an upcoming meeting involving the care of hospitalized older adults and respond to requests to teach medical residents in my office.

I am able to work with my colleagues in providing the best care for their older patients while maintaining my own core group of patients. I wear a different hat many times a day: physician, teacher, social worker, mediator and often friend. I go home feeling both exhausted and satisfied and wondering what tomorrow will bring.

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