From the Editor: Focus on Healthy Living
As do most medical practitioners, geriatricians tend to focus on the treatment of disease, often at the expense of attention to prevention of disease. While, for example, cardiologists tend to heart ailments, oncologists treat existing cancer, and gastroenterologists aim to remedy a host of gut issues, they may spend little time inquiring about patient habits or educating patients about the prevention of these and other diseases—as if the responsibility for education lay elsewhere. This, despite the fact that the key illnesses affecting older adults—heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and even dementia—are to a great extent prevented or ameliorated by lifestyle change.
It can be argued that prevention isn’t only the domain of primary care providers and registered dietitian nutritionists and that all practitioners have an equal responsibility to take every opportunity to notice in their patients the vulnerabilities that put them at risk for disease—for example, observing or inquiring about tobacco use, excessive alcohol consumption, abuse of prescription or over-the-counter medications, sedentary behaviors, behavioral health concerns, inattention to hydration, and poor dietary habits.
Primary care physicians may have little time to educate all patients about all these issues, and many patients will never be referred to a dietitian. But if all practitioners took it as part of their mission to empower their patients to prevent disease through lifestyle changes—whether by inquiring and counseling or by simply steering patients to sources of reliable information—fewer patients might have need for specialists’ care.
Nowhere is the need as great, perhaps, as for guidance about nutrition. There’s hardly a disease or condition that isn’t in some way influenced by diet, and many that can be entirely prevented with dietary intervention. In this issue, registered dietitian nutritionist KC Wright reports on the important role diet plays in the prevention and development of cancer. It’s information all practitioners should share with all of their patients.