AGS Spotlight

AGS Annual Scientific Meeting Has Much to Offer Clinicians

Barney S. Spivack, MD, FACP, AGSF, CMD Associate Physician Editor, Clinical Geriatrics

Since I started practicing geriatrics in the 1980s, I’ve rarely missed the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) annual scientific meetings. At the meetings, I catch up with colleagues and friends from across the country and the globe, make new acquaintances, and learn more about the latest developments in our field.

The 2011 meeting, which took place this past May, included a multitude of lectures, symposia, workshops, and other sessions of particular interest to clinicians. The State-of-the-Art Clinical Updates Session alone offered a comprehensive overview of developments in the assessment and treatment of dementia, type 2 diabetes, and rheumatic diseases. Led by experts in a wide range of areas, the session also examined the state of the art of caring for older adults with orthostatic hypotension, pressure sores, and infectious diseases common in long-term care facilities. These are complex health problems that we see on a regular basis in our practices.

The annual meeting covers research, clinical guidelines, innovative models of care, and healthcare policy. And—just as important—it highlights the interplay among these elements of care. It examines how research can inform practice guidelines, how guidelines can inform public policy, and how both policy and research that involves our communities can enhance the dissemination of new clinical protocols. The 2011 meeting’s standout Henderson State-of-the-Art Lecture and Outstanding Scientific Achievement Lecture both provided cases in point.

Mary E. Tinetti, MD, professor of medicine, epidemiology and public health, and director of the Program on Aging at Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, was the recipient of this year’s Edward Henderson Award and delivered the Henderson State-of-the-Art Lecture. The Henderson award recognizes a researcher, clinician, or educator who has made significant contributions to the field, and Dr. Tinetti was recognized for her pioneering work in identifying and addressing contributors to falls in older people. Her work has brought about a fundamental shift in how falls among older adults are viewed—from an inevitable part of aging to a preventable outcome of interrelated factors.

Dr. Tinetti’s lecture offered an overview of her and colleagues’ extensive work in falls prevention. This work has focused not only on conducting research to identify contributors to and interventions for falls in later life, but also on determining how best to apply this research in clinical settings and on raising laypeoples’, clinicians’, service providers’, and policymakers’ awareness of the need for clinical care to reflect the best medical evidence and the latest research. Among other accomplishments, Dr. Tinetti, a MacArthur “Genius Award” winner, has spearheaded a collaborative, interdisciplinary effort designed to prevent falls by integrating falls prevention education into routine healthcare for older adults in the greater Hartford, CT, area. The effort includes the Yale and University of Connecticut medical schools, the Connecticut Hospital Association, and other stakeholders, and is based in multiple settings, including hospitals, home care agencies, long-term care facilities, senior centers, and clinical practices. As a result, many clinicians and community organizations in the area are now incorporating falls prevention into the evaluation and care they provide to older adults.

While delivering the Outstanding Scientific Achievement Lecture, Catherine Sarkisian, MD, MSPH, associate professor in geriatrics, the University of California at Los Angeles, staff physician, the Veterans Administration, and the recipient of the AGS 2011 Outstanding Scientific Achievement for Clinical Investigation Award, offered an overview of her groundbreaking research. Dr. Sarkisian is the first researcher to systematically examine how older adults’ beliefs about aging affect their health and how clinicians can help improve older adults’ health by challenging unfounded, potentially damaging beliefs.

Dr. Sarkisian’s research has found that many older people view a sedentary lifestyle and the negative consequences associated with it as a “normal” part of later life. However, a randomized, controlled trial that she and colleagues conducted demonstrated that a behavioral intervention designed to change the way older adults think about exercising—so that they view exercise as something that one should be doing in later life—led to a significant increase in the amount of physical activity actually being done by the older adults in the study. Like Dr. Tinetti, Dr. Sarkisian conducted the study with the help of community-based organizations in a collaboration that not only advanced geriatrics research, but also put research advances into direct actual practice within the community. Her lecture highlighted the many benefits of such community-academic partnerships. 

As Dr. Tinetti’s and Dr. Sarkisian’s work attests, there are many exciting opportunities for clinicians like ourselves to contribute to advancing the care of our older patients. This is particularly the case now, given the current focus on improving the organization of healthcare delivery while at the same time providing cost-effective and evidence-based care. The AGS and its annual meetings are resources that can help us keep abreast of promising new research efforts and clinical opportunities that will benefit from our participation. If you weren’t able to make this year’s meeting and would like to learn more about Dr. Tinetti’s and Dr. Sarkisian’s lectures and others from the meeting, you can find Powerpoint versions of their presentations and many other lectures, symposia, and workshops at www.americangeriatrics.org/annual_meeting/2011_meeting_handouts/. I encourage you to take advantage of this resource provided by the AGS.

Dr. Spivack is Regional Medicare Medical Director, UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement, Westport/Trumbull, CT; Founder, Connecticut Geriatrics Society; Consultant in Geriatric Medicine, Greenwich Hospital, Greenwich, CT, and Stamford Hospital, Stamford, CT.

Send your comments and questions for Dr. Spivack to: medwards@hmpcommunications.com