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Geriatric specialists advance in the fight against “multimorbidity”

As our population ages, modern medicine continues to keep us living longer.  While this is a positive in nearly all respects, it also means that patients find themselves battling a number of chronic conditions that are no longer necessarily fatal.

Today, the New York Times profiles a group of geriatric specialists attempting to design a better approach to the problem of “multimorbidity,” – a term describing the battle against several chronic illnesses that require a multitude of physician visits, medications or ongoing therapy.

In the profile, author Paula Span, who writes The New Old Age Blog for the Times, writes:

Here’s the problem: A majority of older adults, the medical literature shows, are coping with at least three chronic conditions. Diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, hypertension, kidney failure — the list goes on and on.

Medical groups have developed separate clinical guidelines for most of these diseases, but when doctors simply follow those recommendations, treating one disease can worsen another. Drugs interact in unpredictable ways. Side effects make patients miserable, even if their lab results look better.

To combat this challenge, a group of geriatric specialists led by Johns Hopkins geriatrician Matthew McNabney, M.D., have tried to find a better system for treating multimorbidity.

After a year, this group thinks they may have found some answers that can help patients and their caregivers.

The group also drafted a tip sheet for patients and caregivers, “Living With Multiple Health Problems: What Older Adults Should Know.” You can find it on the Web site of the society’s Foundation for Health in Aging; you may also spot it at doctors’ offices and clinics in coming months.

It takes a very patient-centered approach, to adopt the current jargon. “The health care approach has historically been to tell patients what to do, what benefits them,” Dr. McNabney said. “We need to ask, ‘What do they want? How can they tell me what they want?’ Not just tell them, ‘This is what the guidelines say.’”

For a full rundown of the tips and best pratices identified by McNabney and his colleagues, check out Span’s story here.

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