Managing Geriatric Patients: A Medical Assistant’s Guide

The population of people over 65 in the United States is going to continue to grow in the next few decades. That poses a challenge for the healthcare system, but it also creates unique career opportunities for medical assistants. Geriatrics, the care of older adults, is among the fastest up and coming specialties. For anyone interested in working with seniors, it’s the perfect time to get involved.

What is Geriatrics?

Geriatrics is defined as care of the aging, but it’s more than that. While other branches of medicine focus exclusively on curing disease, geriatrics seeks to prevent disability. It’s a critical distinction because as the body grows more fragile, even a minor illness can result in the loss of independence.

Managing medical issues, especially chronic conditions such as dementia and diabetes, is an important part of geriatrics. But it’s only one part of a greater mission, to help seniors remain independent and live life to the fullest.

What are Geriatric Patient Needs

Geriatrics is holistic in nature. It considers the aging adult as a whole person, not a collection of symptoms or complaints. Geriatric practitioners know that senior health depends on a wide range of physical, emotional, social and financial factors. Geriatric medical assistants contribute to patient wellness by helping with all of those things, but it takes a special touch.

Senior patients have challenges that require medical assistants to adjust their techniques. For example, maintaining a neat and comfortable waiting area isn’t enough. Many elderly patients have mobility issues that require adaptive equipment, so spaces must allow for the safe movement of wheelchairs, walkers and canes.

Checking in younger patients is quick, but older adults with sensory or cognitive impairments may need extra attention. From keeping things quiet so seniors can hear, to offering patient education materials in large print, geriatric care involves constant adaptation to the needs of a very diverse patient population.

Where Geriatric Medical Assistants Work

Most geriatric medical assistants work in doctor’s offices. But as geriatricians try to reach the elderly at the community level, medical assisting jobs in alternative settings such as nursing facilities, assisted living centers, senior housing complexes, social work agencies and community centers are growing. Wherever seniors need care, medical assistants are an asset.

Skills for Geriatric Medical Assistants

A medical assistant providing geriatric care will need a few skills to succeed, including sensitivity, compassion, simplicity, awareness, and open-mindedness.

Sensitivity

Seniors are individuals. One patient may need no more assistance than a young adult while another could need help every step of the way. The elderly are sensitive to changes in their level of function. Medical assistants need to walk a fine line between offering help and respecting a client’s independence. It takes finesse and sensitivity.

Compassion

Empathy is the ability to sense suffering, compassion is the willingness to help. The elderly are particularly vulnerable, and they need strong support from medical assistants who are willing to go the extra mile.

Simplicity

Seniors are from a simpler time. Their perspective is different than those who have decades of life ahead of them. That doesn’t mean that they don’t want to learn new things or be attentive to details, but for the elderly, simple information is more actionable.

Awareness

Aging causes both physical and cognitive decline. While some seniors are acutely aware of these changes, others are dangerously less cognizant. Octogenarians may say they take their medications as prescribed, but they may not recognize they have a memory impairment. Medical assistants need to be aware of subtle behaviors that indicate they need to dig further when investigating symptoms.

Open-mindedness

Just because the elderly need assistance doesn’t mean they forfeit their right to self-determination. It’s easy to approach seniors as if they’re children, but they’re not. They’re adults with the right to make their own decisions, even when their choices differ from their doctor’s recommendations.

As a patient, it’s the senior’s goals, whatever they may be, that should drive a therapeutic relationship. Only by being respectful and open-minded can a medical assistant be genuinely supportive of what patients want.

Final Thoughts

Many Americans are fast approaching retirement age, and with that comes a growing need for healthcare, but there’s a shortage of qualified providers. As front-line caregivers, geriatric medical assistants have the right blend of administrative and clinical skills to bridge the gap.

Did learning about managing geriatric patients interest you? Interested in working with colleagues that want to help their patients stay healthy? Ready for an exciting new career in the medical assisting field? PCI Health Training Center’s Medical Assistant programs prepares a graduate to work as an entry-level Medical Assistant. Within this general career category there are several specialty areas, including Medical Administrative Office Assistant, Clinic Assistant, Clinic Tech, Medical Office Manager, Phlebotomist and Physical Therapy Aide in a doctor’s office, clinic or hospital out-patient clinic. Contact PCI Health Training Center for more information on how to become a medical assistant and start a rewarding career today.

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