Gerald A. Ridge, MD
Specialty: Internal Medicine
Title: President & Medical Director, NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Group Westchester
Hospital: NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital
Although geriatrics as a medical discipline didn’t exist when Dr. Gerald Ridge graduated from medical school in 1979, he remembers feeling an instant affinity for working with elderly patients even while still in school. “I've always believed that the best part of medicine is getting to know my patients and their life histories,” he says. “Elderly patients have the most interesting, robust histories of anyone!”
In the early 90s, Ridge was practicing medicine and working as the medical director of a couple skilled-nursing facilities, when he received a career-changing offer to teach geriatrics to residents while helping to create a brand-new geriatric unit at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center.
Today, Ridge, who is board certified in both internal medicine and geriatric medicine, continues to improve the care of elderly patients in many ways, including by teaching and helping medical staff at NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital to be attuned and sensitive to the unique needs of geriatric patients.
Other than the fact that about three-quarters of your patients are elderly, how is your practice different from a general practice?
Instead of simply focusing on a patient’s medical needs and treating disease, the essence of geriatrics is focusing on how to help aging patients maintain their functional status. It’s about allowing them to be independent so they can live at home rather than in assisted living.
When I first started teaching, residents cared for all patients the same way, whether they were 50 or over 80. But they aren’t the same. Our ability to prolong life in an older person is very limited, and, if we treat one condition, the patient may succumb to another. When it comes to our older patients, the residents I teach today think about patient functional status and measure activities of daily living (ADL), which include things like the ability to dress, walk, prepare meals, and keep a checkbook balanced.
How are we doing in Westchester with respect to geriatric care?
While I can’t speak for the other institutions in Westchester, at NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital, the quality of geriatric care over the past decades has vastly improved. Our physical medicine and nursing staff is extremely sensitive to the special needs of geriatric patients, and provide excellent care to them.
Is there a clear line between “regular” care and geriatric care, or does it just progress naturally from the former to the latter?
It should evolve naturally into geriatric care as patients age, focusing less on the longevity of life and more on their quality of life.
What should seniors do to stay healthy?
The most important factor in maintaining health as we age is regular physical exercise. It has a positive effect on multiple health outcomes such as cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular disease, cancer, cognitive function, and mood. Everyone should try exercising at a moderate level for 30 minutes at least five days a week.