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What is Geriatric medicine

Author: Mercy Wachiuri, Dr. Kinyanjui and Elizabeth Ndung'u
13 June 2016
  • Agnes (not her real name) a geriatric patient at Nakuru Teaching and Referral Hospital attended to by the Palliative care team lead by Mercy Wachiuri (Head of palliative care unit Nakuru)

According to a 2011 report by Africa Economic Brief, the Population aging in most developing countries is highly correlated with physical and mental disability and an increase in the prevalence of a number of long term chronic conditions.

In 2006, the World Health Organization (WHO) projected that diseases associated with aging such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, accounted for 6.3% of disability-adjusted life years. This is significantly higher than the contribution to disability-adjusted life years globally of HIV/AIDS (5.5%), all cancers (5.3%), heart disease (4.2%) and respiratory diseases (4.0%). Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia alone account for 12% of the burden of neurological disorders. More recent studies suggest that these conditions are on the rise due to an aging population. More alarming is the evidence suggesting that these conditions will increase more rapidly in developing countries than in developed countries.

Geriatric medicine is a specialised care that focuses on health care of elderly people focusing on prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of older adults.

Agnes (not her real name) among many elderly patients, she was admitted at the age of 115 years with gangrene of the left foot; she has lived with diabetes for many years and had amputation of the right leg due to diabetic complications some years back. She is a mother of 4 daughters and a grandmother to many.

Agnes’s blood sugars were not well controlled and the gangrene was progressing fast, the surgeon recommended that she required amputation of the left leg.  She was devastated by the news and palliative care team was called to talk to her and the family regarding the disease and the need for amputation.

The palliative care team held a family session where they discussed the disease, the risk of not undergoing amputation and outcomes of amputation since she will be confined to a wheel chair. “You will need to take good care of your mother because she will be fully confined in a wheel chair for life, give her your full support at all times.” advised Mercy – Head of palliative care unit, Nakuru Teaching and Referral Hospital.

Later Agnes and the family members agreed that she undergoes amputation; the palliative care team supported her and the family until she was discharged. They were grateful for the support they were offered by the team. “Asanteni sana, mumesimamam na sisi kama rafiki. Mungu awabariki” in english this means (“Thank you very much for the great support. You have seen us through our mother’s illness as friends, may God bless you!”) one of the daughters thanked the palliative care team.

Let us embrace the elderly in our communities to add life into their days! Elderly people suffering various life threatening illnesses require palliative care thus the need for the health care workers, younger population and the community to provide holistic care.


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