Memorial Regional Health: Caring for the aging is a priority in Craig — Memorial Regional Health has geriatric physician on staff, a rare benefit for a small community
Editor’s note: The following article is sponsored by Memorial Regional Health
The specialty medical field of geriatrics continues to evolve as the health care industry learns more about how lifestyle factors influence aging.
Geriatrics is defined as the branch of specialty medicine for the health and care of older people. This specialty tends to be a lesser-known field in medicine, but it’s extremely beneficial for aging populations due to multiple age-specific conditions and diseases that require long-term care and management.
Dr. Catherine Cantway is the geriatric medicine physician at Memorial Regional Health, and she’s excited to be able to offer this specialty field of care to the community. She said many communities of this size often do not have access to this type of care.
When to see a specialist
Patients who are older than 65 and have multiple chronic medical conditions or medical conditions that are difficult to diagnose and manage would benefit from seeing a geriatrician, Cantway said. She recommends those patients ask their primary care physician for a referral.
“For my geriatric patients, I still strongly advocate for healthy diet, exercise, social activities, and mentally stimulating activities, because adopting good lifestyle habits, even later in life, can have beneficial effects on the health of an aging patient,” Cantway said.
There are a few areas of care Cantway said are most common in the geriatric population: Chronic conditions or diseases, cancer, geriatric symptoms, and cognitive health.
Chronic conditions, such a high blood pressure, often need to be managed differently as people age. An older patient’s kidney function naturally worsens, and blood vessels become stiffer, for example, so Cantway said the one or two medications that person took as an adult might need to be managed differently in later years.
Because one of the main risk factors for cancer is age — the risk increases as people age — Cantway said it’s important for older people to stay vigilant about looking for signs of cancer. Many recommended cancer screenings end at age 75, but geriatricians might continue screenings for certain patients who may face higher risks.
For geriatric syndromes specific to aging — including heart failure, kidney failure, movement disorders, and frailty — there are specialists in those specific fields that can manage each individual condition.
“But when these disease processes occur together, it is helpful to have a geriatrician oversee and coordinate care between and among specialists,” Cantway said. “It is not uncommon that a medication or treatment that the neurologist wants to start will have significant effects on the kidneys in a patient that has the start of kidney failure, for example. So, to have someone look out for these subtle interactions can be extremely helpful for the patients and the specialists taking care of them, so that we provide the best care for an aging patient with multiple medical conditions.”
The very age-specific disease of frailty — when a person becomes weaker, thin, and has low energy, which makes it difficult to perform normal tasks — is important to identify early so patients can maintain independence and functionality, Cantway said.
Because of her special training in cognitive health, patients of any age can also benefit from seeing her for a cognitive evaluation.
“The earlier we catch a neurologic process that affects cognition, the better chance we have of managing it well,” she said. “So, people shouldn’t wait until they are 65 to see me if they have any cognitive concerns.”
In older patients, there are a number of different types of dementias people can develop.
“The most common and well-known is Alzheimer’s disease, but just because someone is old and they have memory problems, that does not always just equal Alzheimer’s disease,” Cantway said. “Performing a thorough evaluation of a patient with cognitive concerns is critical in order to make a proper diagnosis, to guide management, and to educate families on what to expect. A significant part of my geriatric training was in cognitive health and how to properly diagnose and manage cognitive issues. Each of the dementias is managed in a slightly different way.”
Cantway trained with Dr. Norman Foster at the University of Utah, one of the nation’s leading researchers in cognitive health and Alzheimer’s disease. She said this level of cognitive training is a significant resource to have at Memorial Regional Health.