A fall down the stairs. A name you can’t quite remember. Chronic fatigue. If you’re 70 or older, you need to pay attention to these classic geriatric symptoms, says Dr. John Morley, a SLUCare Physician Group geriatrician and director of geriatrics at Saint Louis University. “The beauty of early screening is now there are many things we can do to address issues or slow the onset of geriatric diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia,” he says.
Yet patients—and their doctors—might not know what to watch for. “Many people 70 and older pay no attention to whether they have the classic geriatrics symptoms, which include getting frail, losing muscle and not thinking clearly,” Morley says. “One study showed that less than 10 percent of people with dementia were diagnosed by their family practitioners.”
To help patients identify problems early, Morley and his associates at SLUCare developed rapid screening tests for frailty and cognitive health, tests now used around the world. They are straightforward, take less than a few minutes, and can be performed at home easily. The cognitive test, called the Saint Louis University Mental Status Examination, is available at aging.slu.edu, while the frailty test asks patients: Are you fatigued? Can you walk up a flight of stairs? Can you walk a block? Do you have more than five illnesses? Have you lost more than 5 percent of your weight in the past six months? “Patients with more than two of these will run into trouble, because those symptoms place you at an increased risk of death, hospitalization or nursing home placement,” Morley says.
Patients who score poorly on either test can turn to SLUCare’s geriatrics team for a longer, more comprehensive screening. One major benefit to consulting a geriatrician, a physician who specializes in symptoms associated with aging, is that he or she is focused on simplifying care and finding the underlying cause of symptoms, rather than merely writing another prescription, Morley says. “Geriatricians are focused on comorbidities and all the things you have to pull together to make an older person function well,” he says. “We can provide easy-to-handle solutions and recommend simple things that impact patients’ quality of life. We also try to simplify patients’ medication plans.”
One local man in his 60s recently turned to the SLUCare geriatrics team to find out what was causing his faulty memory and diminished job performance. When he performed poorly on the quick cognitive test, Morley asked his wife a series of questions, including whether the patient snored at night. He discovered the man’s issues stemmed from sleep apnea, a disorder that can go undiagnosed for years. “We got him a CPAP mask, and the next time I saw him, he was back at the ideal score on the cognitive test,” Morley says. For another patient suffering from fatigue, Morley’s team discovered the underlying cause was depression. “We treated the depression, which cured his fatigue,” he says. “We’ve helped many patients get off medication, improve quality of life, and prolong their independence.”
Photo courtesy of SLUCare Physician Group
SLUCare Geriatrician Dr. Angela Sanford
[The SLUCare geriatrics team, headed by Dr. John Morley, practices at Des Peres Hospital and the Doctors Office Building, 3660 Vista Ave., Ste. 204. For more information, call 314.977.6055, or visit slucare.edu/geriatrics.]