FOR BREAKING NEWS VISIT WWW.QNS.COM FEBRUARY 14, 2019 • SENIOR LIVING • THE QUEENS COURIER 25
Getting the care you need: Find
your health care ‘quarterback’
Are you 65 or older? While your primary
care doctor may be an internist or
general practitioner, have you thought
about adding a geriatrician to your health
A geriatrician can act as your health
care “quarterback,” helping to ensure you
get the specifi c care you need, as well as
coordinating care with specialists.
“Our health needs oft en change dramatically
in our later years,” said Dr.
Efrem Castillo, chief medical offi cer
for UnitedHealthcare Medicare &
Retirement. “Th e kind of care you deliver
to an older adult is not the same as for
a middle-aged person. Th e physiology of
older people is very diff erent from people
in other stages of life.”
Th ose diff erences are signifi cant enough
that the medical community developed a
specialty - geriatrics - to address the needs
of older adults. Geriatricians are licensed
physicians who have completed additional
training in managing the care of older
people. Th at training makes geriatricians
uniquely suited to help older adults manage
the complex demands of their health
One source of that complexity is chronic
conditions. Older adults are signifi cantly
more likely than their younger counterparts
to have a chronic condition such as
hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.
In fact, about 80 percent have at least one
chronic condition, and 68 percent have
two or more.
Given the prevalence of chronic conditions
in older adults, they’re also heavier
users of prescription medications
than younger adults. About 90 percent of
adults 65 and older take at least one prescription
medication, and 40 percent take
fi ve or more prescription drugs.
Juggling multiple chronic conditions
can introduce challenges for doctors
and patients, with one condition sometimes
exacerbating the eff ects of another.
Moreover, treatments for illnesses can
sometimes interfere with each other. Th at
means the recommended course of treatment
could look diff erent in a patient
with one chronic condition when compared
to a patient with several.
Establishing the ideal treatment regimen
for older adults with multiple chronic
conditions can be further complicated
by side eff ects unique to older adults.
Some medications can be ineff ective
or even dangerous for older patients.
Common over-the-counter drugs such
as the allergy medication Benadryl, for
example, have been linked to serious confusion
in the elderly. Digoxin, a medication
used to treat irregular heartbeat,
can be toxic to older people when used
at doses sometimes prescribed to younger
Geriatricians are trained to understand
how drugs uniquely impact older adults
so they can appropriately customize their
drug regimen to mitigate the risk of complications.
Decisions about how to customize a
patient’s treatment aren’t necessarily
black and white, requiring a doctor and
patient to carefully balance risks and benefi
ts. For example, some diabetes medicines
can cause dizziness, meaning the
doctor needs to focus not just on regulating
the patient’s blood sugar but also on
minimizing the risk of a fall, which is the
most common cause of injury for seniors.
“A lot of what geriatricians do is determining
which medications are more
likely to cause harm than help,” said
Castillo. “And the concept of shared decision
making is integral here - asking
patients, ‘What trade-off s are you willing
Sometimes, the trade-off s are purely
medical in nature - weighing the pros
and cons of taking a certain medication
or undergoing a specifi c screening, for
example. But more oft en than not, they
also involve a person’s overall life goals.
How important is it to maximize longevity?
Comfort? How about independence?
Each person answers those questions differently,
and geriatricians are trained to
use the answers to guide their treatment
recommendations and care plan.
When should you seek out a geriatrician
for yourself or a loved one? A significant
change in health status could be a
trigger for a visit with a geriatrician. But
any time an older adult feels his or her
care is becoming too complex or needs
better coordination, a visit with a geriatrician
Finding a geriatrician
With 10,000 Americans turning
65 every day, the demand for geriatricians
continues to grow. And despite
a shortage of certifi ed geriatricians as
the demand increases, many geriatricians
will see a patient on a one-time or
as-needed basis and then make recommendations
to the patient’s primary care
Th e American Geriatrics Society off ers
information about how to fi nd a geriatrician
on its website, and many larger
hospitals and university medical
centers have geriatricians on staff that
will see new patients. If you’re enrolled
in a Medicare Advantage plan, be sure
to confi rm whether a geriatrician you
want to see is in your plan’s network
and if your plan requires you to fi rst get
a referral from your primary care physician
before a visit with a geriatrician will
UnitedHealthcare members can get
help with those questions. From scheduling
your next checkup appointment
to helping you fi nd a specialist to getting
the treatment you need, it’s easier to get
the right care at the right time.
* Check with your health insurance
provider or Medicare about whether the
cost of this new vaccine is covered under
your plan. Whether it’s helping to schedule
routine care appointments or checkups,
UnitedHealthcare can help you navigate
the health care system to get the
care you need as soon as you need it.
Plans are insured through
UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company
or one of its affi liated companies. For
Medicare Advantage and Prescription
Drug Plans: A Medicare Advantage
organization with a Medicare contract
and a Medicare-approved Part D sponsor.
Enrollment in these plans depends on
the plans contract renewal with Medicare.