Sunday, January 15, 2006


Geriatrics is the specialized branch of medicine that deals with older people. As a form of specialization, it has received increasing attention from the medical community in the past 10 years. Recently the American Board of Internal Medicine and the American Academy of Family Physicians established a certifying examination to establish competence in this new specialization. Over 2,000 physicians nationwide took and passed the exam and now have certification as geriatricians. The Accreditation Council For Graduate Medical Education, which is concerned with the education of physicians once they have acquired their basic medical degrees and licenses, has taken applications for advance training in internal medicine in the geriatic area and is in the process of accrediting educational programs.
The value of medical specialization in geriatrics rests in part with the unique health care requirements of people in later life. Some diseases, such as osteoporosis, are not entirely unique to the advanced years, but their effects and treatment become far more significant as life advances. Likewise, certain diseases that get major attention and are highly publicized with reference to younger people have been overlooked or neglected in later life. One such disease is breast cancer; it has been learned that less than 6 percent of women over 60 have ever had mammograms and breast examinations even though the risk of cancer increases throughout life.
Another value of medical specialization in aging is that it tends to stimulate research related to the specialty. Refering to cancer again, new studies have found a paradoxical situation among older patients. Here the presence of decreased immunity appears to reduce the rate of tumor growth. This occurs because the lymphokines, which are produced by the body's defense mechanisms against diseases such as cancer, promote tumor growth. Through knowledge of this type, people achieve not only better understanding of fundamental processes of biology in the presence of disease, but of how to take advantage of the body's own reactions to make medical treatment more effective. The progress of specialization in geriatrics, then, will help to continue the advance of medicine that has done so much to reduce illness and death and to improve the quality of life for everyone.
Cohen, H. J., and Lyles, K. W. "Geriatrics." Journal of the American Medical Association. Vol. 261, No. 19, May 1989, p. 2847-2848.


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