Geriatric medicine

Responding to the health care needs of Canada's aging population

Dr. José Morais, centre, poses with the geriatric medicine team at the McGill University Health Centre

Canadians are getting older as a population. In 2016, the census revealed a demographic milestone: for the first time there were more Canadians aged 65 or older than those aged 14 or under.

This trend is expected to continue. By 2036, it's estimated that a quarter of the population will be 65 or older.

People aged 65 will soon be considered youngsters, in relation to the growing number of Canadians aged 85 or older. Average life expectancy in Canada is 80 for men and 84 for women. Those reaching 65 are, on average, expected to live another 15 to 20 years more, and more and more Canadians are living to 100 and beyond.

Living a long, happy, healthy life is a universal human aspiration.

It's this aspiration that motivates Dr. José Morais and his colleagues in the field of geriatric medicine.

Dr. Morais is an Associate Professor and Director of the Division of Geriatric Medicine at McGill University, as well as a researcher funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). He's also Associate Director of the Quebec Network for Research on Aging, funded by the Fonds de recherche du Quebec - Santé.

Dr. Morais trains medical students at McGill to care for older patients. He says that it's important for his students to understand the complexities of caring for older people who may live with multiple chronic medical conditions and take many medications. They may also suffer from cognitive impairment and mobility problems.

"Geriatrics is a truly interdisciplinary system of care," says Dr. Morais. "As physicians, we work with a range of allied health professionals to give our patients the best possible care." These other health professionals may include physiotherapists, speech pathologists, psychologists, social workers, and pharmacists who work together as a health care team.

Geriatrics was officially designated a medical specialty in 1982. This designation was achieved thanks to the efforts of the Canadian Geriatrics Society (CGS), whose mission is to promote excellence in health care for older Canadians. The CGS supports education, advocacy and training activities.

Dr. Morais heads the organizing committee for the Society's Annual Scientific Meeting that will be held April 18-21 in Montreal.

"Our scientific meeting is an important opportunity for geriatricians, aging researchers, and students to present their research," says Dr. Morais. "Aging research is a rich and engaging field, which is growing in importance with our aging population."

Dr. Morais' own research program focuses on nutrition and, specifically, protein metabolism. His work has contributed to evidence supporting the importance for older people to maintain a healthy diet that starts with adequate protein intake.

"We've shown that seniors can maintain muscle mass similar to younger people, as long as they eat enough protein daily along with consuming a variety of healthy foods," says Dr. Morais. "Adequate protein intake also addresses a resistance to protein anabolism associated with aging."

Dr. Morais notes that it's been critically important to have the CIHR Institute of Aging, which serves as a convener for the aging research community, mobilizing the community around clear research priorities and facilitating collaboration among researchers, funding agencies and other partners.

"We're very pleased to support the work of the Canadian Geriatrics Society," says Dr. Yves Joanette, Scientific Director of the CIHR Institute of Aging. "The CGS provides a vital link between researchers and clinicians to ensure that research results may be used to improve the health and quality of life of older Canadians and their families."

When asked how he tries to persuade eager, young medical students to pursue specialist training in geriatrics, Dr. Morais makes a simple, straightforward argument appealing to the obvious need, as well as the satisfaction, of caring for older people.

"If you want to work in a hospital, about 60 percent of your patients will be seniors," says Dr. Morais. "In a real sense, you'll be practicing geriatric medicine. Also, geriatricians have the highest job satisfaction rating among medical specialists," according to surveys conducted by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.

"As geriatricians, we have frequent contact with many of our patients and their families and they become friends.

From the perspective of serving humanity and connecting with human beings, you couldn't ask for a better profession."

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