More than 20 medical schools around the country have implemented a new approach to geriatric medicine. Professors are introducing healthy seniors as guest speakers and mentors into their curriculums to share advice, answer questions, and offer much needed perspective to the patient side of medicine. These anti-ageism programs are designed to target certain stereotypes regarding seniors and expand the debilitated elderly mindset students may pick-up during their education. Professors realized that students are primarily exposed to only one demographic during their training and residencies in hospital environments where each senior they interact with is ill.
Seniors are enjoying the opportunity to share often unexpected details about their lives and routines. In one interview by Paula Span, writer for The New York Times, a senior discusses her personal life with students at Cornell, “I emigrated to Lesbianland for a little while in my 50s” following two divorces and birth of her son out of wedlock. She went on to say she’d had an online relationship with a 90-year-old and is now dating a 65-year-old. She says, “he’s in Afghanistan at the moment, so my sex life is not as active as I’d like.” She wants students to realize that life doesn’t stop as you grow older. (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/12/health/elderly-patients-medical-training.html)
Educators want to avoid projecting that elderly persons are not worth treating because they are old. It can be easy to write off symptoms such as fatigue or forgetfulness as “age-related” when actually they can be a sign of underlying infection or trauma. Meeting and following healthy seniors throughout med school show students that many seniors live full and active lives and that numerous conditions and symptoms are treatable and avoidable.
On a broad scale, medical studies have often excluded collecting data on older populations. This makes diagnosis and treatment more difficult for physicians as it can be unclear how these elderly groups may react to different medications and treatments. Another important thing to consider is medication interactions with special diets and other medications. If seniors are patronized by family members during visits with a physician, the physician may also gain the impression that the senior is not capable of making decisions and crucial information may be lost if the senior is not consulted with equal intensity. In these cases, and when the geriatrician is required to make educated guesses, it can be very helpful to understand the history of the patient. A geriatric care manager can advocate for the patient and facilitate stronger relationships and clear communication between patient and doctor.
Students who are not studying to be geriatricians (unless they become pediatricians) will still find that a significant portion of their patients are senior citizens. Because this is the case and because of the growing geriatric population, these anti-ageism programs are essential. Med schools are reporting that the programs have been well-received and are proving effective. Many students are benefitting from the relationships formed through guest appearances and mentorship programs and even meet with the seniors outside of the required school assignments and interviews. Some students have reported that they became more interested in working in geriatric medicine following the program.
A study, “The National Evaluation of Senior Mentor Programs: Older Adults in Medical Education” published in the Journal of The American Geriatrics Society, evaluated 10 of the senior mentoring programs and reported, “the universal goal of positively influencing student attitudes toward older adults was resoundingly achieved”. It also stated, “all 10 programs demonstrated a positive effect on student attitudes toward older adults. Student acceptance of the programs was strong, and mentor acceptance and support were extraordinary.” (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1532-5415.2008.02100.x)
We hope that more and more schools of medicine follow this approach and implement programs to further client-specific analysis and treatment to boost elderly care. Concierge geriatricians and concierge care managers can also help by meeting the seniors in their daily environments. Reach out to your care management team in Fresno and Modesto to learn more about how to advocate for your senior loved one.