SALT LAKE CITY — A man complains that his doctor doesn't take his complaints seriously, treating him like all ills are expected, since he's a senior citizen. A woman complains that her doctor wants her to see a specialist for her rheumatoid arthritis and she's not sure she sees the point. She is, after all, she says, a senior citizen.
The two callers to Saturday's Deseret News/Intermountain Health Hotline are opposite attitudes for which the same conclusion can be reached: Most conditions can be helped with proper care. It should not be assumed that just because someone is older, a medical issue is inevitable or untreatable.
"Seniors are real people who enjoy life and are active within their limitations," said Dr. Edward Wyne, geriatrician at the Intermountain Senior Clinic in Murray. "Our job is to keep them as active as we can. And they are worthy treating."
Wyne and Dr. Crystal Owens, medical director of the seniors clinic at Alta View Hospital in Sandy, answered more than 30 calls and questions posted on Facebook during the two-hour hotline, many of them about specific medications.
Depression among senior citizens is a topic that came up a lot. It is common and often overlooked. It is also very treatable. Asked about mood changes, confusion and other aspects that could signal the onset of dementia, the doctors said it's important to make sure depression isn't the issue; it can mimic dementia. Depression can also coexist with other health issues, including dementia, they noted. The medications available for dementia are designed to stabilize patients and delay disease progression, but they don't stop the disease. Depression medications, on the other hand, can return someone to their former joy and vibrancy, if that's the issue.
Some of the questions concerned why health issues that have been well-documented for a long time have not yet been cured, such as diabetes and neuropathy. Owens noted that effective treatments are the result of research and that requires funding and other support for education and for the science itself.
Neuropathy and tremors were the subjects of several calls. One woman questioned whether her doctor was any good, since she'd been prescribed a couple of different medications for tremors, with no great improvement. Owens assured her the medicines were both appropriate, but noted that not all medications work equally well for all people. And seniors sometimes process medications differently. She suggested the caller see an occupational therapist, as well, to learn if there are tools that will minimize the effects of the tremors so the woman can write and do other manual tasks more easily.
For neuropathy, Wyne said, there truly haven't been great improvements in the past 40 years.
Callers were curious about the difference between treatments for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. The former, which results primarily from wear and tear on joints over time, is not really curable, short of replacing joints with artificial ones. Most treatment hinges on providing relief of symptoms, such as pain. Rheumatoid arthritis, however, is an autoimmune condition for which some effective treatments have been developed.
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