Connecting Health, Aging, Geriatrics, & Innovation

What exactly does geriatrics have to do with the buzzing areas of innovation in aging, and in health care?

Several months ago, at a Bay Area gathering related to innovation and aging, I remarked to one of the organizers that these events generally didn’t seem to include much conversation about the health needs of older adults.

“Oh, we’re not doing health. We’re doing aging,” was the reply.

Ah. I see.

I was a little surprised by this statement, but not very. Obviously, if you are a hammer, everything tends to look like a nail. I’m a physician specialized in the care of aging adults, so when I look at an elderly person, I see the underlying health concerns and age-related vulnerabilities.

But over the past several years that I’ve been talking with people interested in “aging” (e.g. in public health school, at the caregiving website where I used to write, and now with the entrepreneurs and innovators wanting to serve the “aging market”), I’ve noticed two recurring issues:

People often think of aging issues and health issues as different topic areas. Because of this, people offering to help with life problems in aging adults often don’t make as many connections to health issues as they could. 

Consider an older person who is having trouble with shopping and cooking. Sure, you can arrange Meals on Wheels, or get a care circle to start helping with the groceries, or you can might even consider assisted-living. (And if you are a worried family caregiver losing sleep over this situation, you should definitely seek out support.) 
But what about the health problems contributing to this functional decline? Is there cognitive impairment? Poorly treated arthritis pain? Fear of falling? 
The ideal way to help such an aging adult is to integrate the social and life interventions with the right type of medical evaluation and interventions.

People don’t understand what geriatrics is. Ergo, they don’t understand how what we know and do might be relevant — and useful — to what they are trying to do. 
Oh sure, some people know that geriatrics has something to do with taking care of the elderly; a well-informed minority even know that geriatrics is the health care of older adults
But, really, what does “health care of older adults” mean? This definition is vague about who’s an older adult, what makes aging adults need changes in health care, and what constitutes said health care.

Connecting Life, Health, and Aging

Recently I was invited to be on a panel about aging, health, and technology. The event was titled “Challenges & Opportunities in Developing Products for Older Adults,” hosted by the Bay Area Health Technology Forum. 
I decided to see if I might be able to address these two issues during my ten minute talk to the group.
Here is one of my slides from my talk:

Thoughts? Feedback? Please post in the comments below!

(PS: I also experimented with a different definition of what is geriatrics in the talk. I’ll write about that in an upcoming post.)


  1. I like the slide a lot and agree with you totally with the disconnect by many with age and health (especially pain). I am a retired nurse who specialized in pain management, palliative care, oncology and EOL with an emphasis on geriatrics. Retired now I am an advocate for pain and pain management. I am edging into older adult and have persistent post craniotomy pain so I see both sides. Pain and other health issues predict not only quantity of life but most importantly quality of like. All the "ideas" in the world to help the older adult without taking pain and other health issues into consideration are really almost worthless.

    • Hi Janice, thanks for this comment!

      Persistent pain is tough…glad to know you are advocating to help people with pain and pain management. If you've found any tools that help with these issues, let me know!

Speak Your Mind