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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 care team?

A geriatrician can act as your health care “quarterback,” helping to ensure you get the specific care you need, as well as coordinating care with specialists.

“Our health needs often change dramatically in our later years,” said Dr. Efrem Castillo, chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement. “The kind of care you deliver to an older adult is not the same as for a middle-aged person. The physiology of older people is very different from people in other stages of life.”

Those differences are significant 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. That training makes geriatricians uniquely suited to help older adults manage the complex demands of their health care needs.

One source of that complexity is chronic conditions. Older adults are significantly 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 five or more prescription drugs.

Juggling multiple chronic conditions can introduce challenges for both doctors and patients, with one condition sometimes exacerbating the effects of another. Moreover, treatments for illnesses can sometimes interfere with each other. That means the recommended course of treatment could look different 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 effects unique to older adults. Some medications can be ineffective 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 adults.

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