In an essay he wrote in 1981, Dr. T. Franklin Williams, universally accepted as the “Father” of Geriatrics, described the goals of his life work:
Although I never had the privilege of meeting Dr. Williams, I learned about this legend in the field of Geriatrics from my physician friends and colleagues.
Dr. Williams’s vision serves as the foundation for my own personal philosophy as a geriatric clinician and educator. As a geriatric specialist, I know firsthand that healthcare providers have to adhere to the highest standards of competence and integrity when caring for older adults.
Practicing in the specialty of Geriatrics is both a science and an art.
With regard to the first, as with all aspects of medical care, caring for our older adults must be based on sound and well-established scientific principles.
Geriatric care is also an art, in that the geriatric specialist has been trained to look at the whole individual, not just specific diseases or medical problems. If we focus too much on one specific medical problem, we run the real risk of missing other important problems, which could then put the older adult in danger of hospitalization or a worse outcome.
Geriatric care calls for a shift in thinking away from conventional medicine. Oftentimes, we advocate for less medication or prescribing, which to some providers runs counter to their training and patient care philosophy. The “art” of Geriatrics comes in knowing exactly when and which medications need to be stopped or their doses decreased. No two older adults are the same – one person may need to continue taking insulin for their diabetes, while another person may be placed in real danger by continuing to take their insulin.
Due to the aging process and the presence of chronic medical problems such as diabetes, heart failure, high blood pressure and such, providers and pharmacists have to be very knowledgeable about how the management of these issues can affect patients’ health, longevity, and most importantly, quality of life.