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An elderly woman in a residential care home receiving a birthday cake
|Significant diseases||Dementia, arthritis, palliative care, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson's disease, atherosclerosis, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol|
Geriatrics or geriatric medicine is a specialty that focuses on health care of elderly people. It aims to promote health by preventing and treating diseases and disabilities in older adults. There is no set age at which patients may be under the care of a geriatrician or geriatric physician, a physician who specializes in the care of elderly people. Rather, this decision is determined by the individual patient's needs, and the availability of a specialist. It is important to note the difference between geriatrics, the care of aged people, and gerontology, which is the study of the aging process itself. The term geriatrics comes from the Greek γέρων geron meaning "old man", and ιατρός iatros meaning "healer". However, geriatrics is sometimes called medical gerontology.
Geriatrics differs from standard adult medicine because it focuses on the unique needs of the elderly person. The aged body is different physiologically from the younger adult body, and during old age, the decline of various organ systems becomes manifest. Previous health issues and lifestyle choices produce a different constellation of diseases and symptoms in different people. The appearance of symptoms depends on the remaining healthy reserves in the organs. Smokers, for example, consume their respiratory system reserve early and rapidly.
Geriatricians distinguish between diseases and the effects of normal aging. For example, renal impairment may be a part of aging, but renal failure and urinary incontinence are not. Geriatricians aim to treat diseases that are present and achieve healthy aging.
The decline in physiological reserve in organs makes the elderly develop some kinds of diseases and have more complications from mild problems (such as dehydration from a mild gastroenteritis). Multiple problems may compound: A mild fever in elderly persons may cause confusion, which may lead to a fall and to a fracture of the neck of the femur ("broken hip").
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