Geriatrics, or geriatric medicine, is a specialty that focuses on health care of elderly people. It aims to promote health by preventing and treating diseases and disabilities in older adults. There is no set age at which patients may be under the care of a geriatrician, or geriatric physician, a physician who specializes in the care of elderly people. Rather, this decision is determined by the individual patient's needs and the availability of a specialist. It is important to note the difference between geriatrics, the care of aged people and gerontology, which is the study of the aging process itself.
Geriatrics differs from standard adult medicine because it focuses on the unique needs of the elderly person. The aged body is different physiologically from the younger adult body, and during old age, the decline of various organ systems becomes manifest. Previous health issues and lifestyle choices produce a different constellation of diseases and symptoms in different people. The appearance of symptoms depends on the remaining healthy reserves in the organs. Smokers, for example, consume their respiratory system reserve early and rapidly.
Geriatricians distinguish between diseases and the effects of normal aging. For example, renal impairment may be a part of aging, but kidney failure and urinary incontinence are not. Geriatricians aim to treat diseases that are present and achieve healthy aging. Geriatricians focus on achieving the patient's highest priorities in the context of multiple chronic conditions, and on preserving function.
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