Gaining a New Perspective from Geriatric Medicine

Part of a series on the chiropractic residency program in the VA health care system

Last month, we celebrated Veterans Day, followed a few weeks later by Thanksgiving. Working as a resident at the Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital in Greater Los Angeles has given me greater understanding as to what celebrating our nation’s veterans truly means.

Over the last month, I was also lucky enough to do a clinical rotation through the geriatric clinic at the Sepulveda Ambulatory Care Center. Looking back, in preparing for this rotation (in contrast to others like physiatry, neurology or psychology), I have to say I was a bit wary of what my experience would be.

What a mistake that was. This rotation provided me with new and improved clinical tools as well as greater understanding and appreciation for how far our country has come.

Often presenting with their wife, son or daughter—who doubled as their caregiver–these patients show such appreciation for our time and effort in treating them. These patients commonly face multiple conditions; taking the time to listen carefully and study patterns in their history is paramount. Upon these patients learning that I was the chiropractic resident, I often heard things such as, “Man, I could have used you 50 years ago!” It goes without saying that the patients here stole my heart.

As chiropractors, we have such an opportunity to make an impact on musculoskeletal pain in the elderly, and it often begins with education. Fall prevention, diet and nutrition, exercise and encouraging socialization are just a few ways in which we can make a difference. Fear can be crippling, and depression is not uncommon. Learning to communicate effectively and motivate this population is one of the greatest things I’ve taken from my experience in the geriatrics clinic.

Aside from the clinical experience, I also had the chance to interact more than ever with several of our nation’s oldest veterans. Some of my favorite stories came from the World War II era. Their recounts of war and their pride were often accompanied with sadness and turmoil in their eyes. What they experienced I can never begin to comprehend, and I am immensely grateful for their sacrifice.

Everyone deserves to live and function with less pain. They also deserve to be heard, to be educated and to be given the tools to live a more functional life. Whether accomplished with the help of geriatric physicians, psychologists, physical and occupational therapists, acupuncturists or chiropractors, it is our job to earn our place every day by providing the highest quality care to our veterans. In doing so, we will make a huge impact and continue to be a valuable member of their health care team.

It can sometimes be difficult to stay up to date on the literature. However, I challenge each of you to do just this:practice evidence-based care, treat with compassion and remind yourself every day that our patients (veterans or not) deserve the best, and it is our responsibility to deliver. Our veterans have proven themselves to us, and it is our responsibility to do the same in return!

(Photo: Gilberts Islands Campaign. One Marine’s recount after the Battle of Tarawa: “I’ve never been more happy to get back to that Lousy Lousy Lounge.“)

Dr. Clark (Mooers) is the chiropractic resident at the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System under residency site director Dr. Valerie Johnson. Her professional interests include rehabilitation exercise, professional advocacy and pain management for veterans.