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Learning from your Elders

Learning from your Elders

Recently I called a major medical center to get a primary care doctor for my father who is almost 90.

The Senior Health Clinic is not taking any new patients and there is such a long waiting list they are not adding any names at this time.

What about a primary care Doc who specializes in gerontology?


As of 2018, the U.S. had 7,279 certified geriatricians.

Our population is aging. 

According to the American Geriatrics Society demand for geriatric doctors, is projected to increase 45 percent by 2025.

I continued my request: how about someone at least experienced with or interested in working with (for) older patients?

Nope, no one who meets those criteria is accepting new patients. Ok, how about any primary care doctor?

Yes, we can sign your father up with someone. 

My father takes no medication. Walks his 10,000 steps a day, often more. Still does for himself all the things one considers taking care of oneself, home and family.  So maybe, in fact, it is right and proper that he has medical care designed for everyone.

We know the importance of being heard, having a voice and a stake in our own health and health care. Finally, the medical profession is beginning to understand that healthy older folk have a lot to teach us.  

There are now more than 20 medical schools in the U.S. that get their students to listen to healthy older people. Writing in the New York Times Paula Span quotes 82-year-old actress Elizabeth Shepherd as saying, " 

“It’s important that they don’t think life stops as you get older. So I decided I would be frank with them.”

Ms. Shepherd spoke of still being sexually active of having been interested in women and then returning to heterosexual relationships.

"The students meeting with Ms. Shepherd gave the hourlong session high marks. “Helpful and eye-opening,” said Sarita Ballakur, a 23-year-old from Andover, Mass."

“Her candor and openness were incredible,” said Jason Harris, 25. “An organ is an organ. A patient is who we’ll be dealing with in real life.”

“It made me more interested in working with an older patient population,” said Mr. Myslinski."


Dr. Ronald Adelman, co-chief of geriatrics at Weill Cornell, realized that medical students were getting a distorted view of older adults.

“Unfortunately, most education takes place within the hospital, If you’re only seeing the hospitalized elderly, you’re seeing the debilitated, the physically deteriorating, the demented. It’s easy to pick up ageist stereotypes.”

These stereotypes can adversely affect patient care. If the assumption is that all older people have aches and pains then reporting an ache or pain can easily be disregarded as just being old. This applies to so many aspects of life; it is essential that doctors learn NOT to medicalize every aspect of aging. And to  hear when care or intervention is needed. 

Ms. Span's article continues: "An evaluation reviewing 10 senior mentoring programs, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, reported that “the universal goal of positively influencing student attitudes toward older adults was resoundingly achieved. Why, then, aren’t there more such initiatives in the nation’s 151 M.D.-granting medical schools? They’re not particularly expensive, the evaluation found, and older people clamor to take part. "

The future would be brighter for patients of all ages if we are listened to and cared for as individuals and not merely a stereotype of a demographic. 

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