MedUni Wien: Geriatric medicine: far more than mere “elderly care medicine”

Geriatric medicine is often understood to mean elderly care medicine. Translated from the Greek, geriatrics means “medical treatment of the elderly”. This much more accurately represents the true purpose of this discipline, as Marcus Köller, who has been the MedUni Vienna’s first Professor of Geriatric Medicine since 1st October 2012, explains: “Geriatrics is not elderly care medicine, it is acute medicine for the elderly that also fulfils other multi-dimensional tasks.”

“As well as treating acute illnesses, one of the key objectives of geriatric medicine,” says Köller, “is to prevent or reduce the functional deficits that threaten to overwhelm the elderly.” This needs to be factored into treatment concepts right from the start. Köller is carrying out his professorship as head of the highly respected Department of Geriatric Medicine at Vienna’s Sophienspital.

“Give the elderly more encouragement”
Even in healthy older patients, the loss of muscle mass associated with aging occurs faster than in younger people. If an illness or operation occurs, this muscle mass disappears even more quickly. Says Köller: “Living means moving. Elderly, unwell people need to be allowed - and encouraged - to do more. After surgery, they need to be back on their feet again quickly. It promotes independence.” With this in mind, the researcher from the MedUni Vienna regards his discipline as a mixture of rehabilitation and prevention.

Adapting medicine to the needs of older people
Generally speaking, older people - just like children - are under-represented in clinical studies. There has long been a need for specialist and personalised medicine for the elderly. Says Köller: “Older people often drop out of studies. They are then given medications like a forty year old, but you have to bear in mind that their metabolism and immune systems change as they grow older, and older patients often take several medications at the same time. This area is still far too under-researched.”

The evaluation of treatment concepts and the development of new treatment strategies are also key questions that Köller will be addressing during his tenure as professor. Other issues will include mobility, diseases of the musculoskeletal system, osteoporosis and questions over changes in the immune system as we age.

Personal profile
Marcus Köller, born in 1965 in Vienna, signed his first intern contract at the Faculty of Medicine exactly 20 years ago, on 1st October 1992. He is now returning to the Medical University of Vienna as a professor. He completed his medical training at the University Department of Internal Medicine. In October 2005, he was appointed Extraordinary University Professor. Since August 2009, he has been Head of Department at the Sophienspital, specialising in acute geriatric medicine and remobilisation. He is a specialist in internal medicine, rheumatology and geriatric medicine. He also holds diplomas from the Austrian Medical Association as a Clinical Investigator and in palliative medicine.

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