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New approaches to caring for older adults

May 30, 2017 | Lisa Gibbs, MD
uc irvine health geriatrician dr lisa gibbs with a patient

By the year 2050, the United States population aged 65 or older is estimated to reach 83 million, nearly double the number in 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

My fellow geriatricians and I at the UC Irvine Health SeniorHealth Center advocate for the needs and concerns of the growing older adult population. The goal of the center is to combine the latest medical advances with a compassionate, whole-person approach to healthy aging.

What is a geriatrician?

Geriatricians complete one or two years of advanced training, called a fellowship, to specialize in optimizing the care of older adults. Because we specialize in complex care, we are often at the forefront of innovation and new models of care for older adults.

We offer primary care as well as consultations for:

  • Memory
  • Falls
  • Loss of function
  • Other issues facing older adults

In addition, we are comfortable caring for patients where they need us, be it in the clinic, hospital, nursing home or the patient’s own home. Our board-certified group of physicians is the largest in Orange County and cares for patients in multiple settings.

What are the advantages of going to a geriatrician?

As we age, our needs and medical concerns change.

Age is not as important as function and well-being, and it is advantageous for older adults to obtain care from physicians who understand the interrelatedness of physiology, medications, medical conditions, mental health and the social well-being of older adults.

Do geriatricians receive special training?

Yes, geriatricians are fellowship-trained and board-certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine or the American Board of Family Medicine.

Because of the focus and training that geriatricians receive during their course of study, they are more apt to recognize, properly diagnose and treat medical issues that concern older adults. They also understand that caregiver and family involvement and community services are key components to patient care.

What services does the UC Irvine SeniorHealth Center offer?

The UC Irvine Health SeniorHealth Center is a certified Patient Centered Medical Home (PCMH), meaning that it meets strict requirements for care coordination in a team-based setting and affords patients a voice in their own healthcare.

Services include primary care for people aged 60 and older and consultative care for specific conditions such as memory, polypharmacy (interactions between multiple medications) and falls. Consultations with disciplines such as psychology, pharmacy and social work are also available.

Because the care of older adults often requires the expertise of many disciplines, we also specialize in team-based care.

One of our premier programs, the Health Assessment Program for Seniors (HAPS), provides a comprehensive assessment for patients and caregivers, followed by a personalized family conference. The assessments are conducted by a multidisciplinary team. We also partner with specialists to optimize patients’ health prior to elective surgery.

Does the center assist patients who are concerned about dementia?

The SeniorHealth Center offers the Memory Assessment Program for Seniors in which a geriatrician, geropsychologist and social worker evaluate and treat memory and care needs.

How is the Division of Geriatrics working to meet the needs of the aging baby boomer generation?

New models of care are needed.

One project involves a partnership with the Gary and Mary West Health Institute, an organization dedicated to healthy aging. Our 360 Degree Caregiving Solution initiative seeks to improve the lives of those living independently in the community. The partnership provides a coordinated patient-centered plan that links healthcare with community-based social service agencies to make sure older adults receive the care and services they need.

Why are these new service models needed?

Our national healthcare system is ill-prepared to collaboratively, efficiently and compassionately care for the increasing numbers of older patients. So there is an urgency to develop models for patient-centered and cost-effective care.

Our focus includes improved quality of care and patient experience for patients and caregivers. As one of the few certified PCMH models in the country focusing on a geriatric population, we are uniquely positioned to create and implement new models of care coordination for frail older adults.

Our vision is to care for patients how, when and where they need it.

How is the Division of Geriatrics working with the community to meet the needs of older adults?

Community outreach and integration are very important to us.

We are a member of the Orange County Aging Services Collaborative, alongside numerous agencies providing care for older adults.

We also have a strong partnership with the UC Irvine School of Nursing and Alzheimer’s OC in teaching geriatric care to other primary care providers in Orange County through a federal grant.

Why is Orange County a good place to introduce new geriatric healthcare models?

Orange County is home to a diverse population that is expected to mirror national shifts in ethnic diversity and growth of the older adult populations. As a leading university in Orange County, and with strong medical and nursing geriatric medicine teaching and clinical programs, UC Irvine has a mission to help prepare Orange County to address the needs of a burgeoning senior population. And every day we continue to make great strides.

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