What, if anything, is the relationship between geriatrics and palliative medicine? They are clearly separate fields, each with their own distinct areas of competence and interests. There is though an area of overlap that holds the power to transform the way we care for patients with advanced illness. We saw a preview of this at the American Geriatrics Society annual meeting at Walt Disney World. Here are some highlights:

• Christine Ritchie gave a powerful talk at the fellowship director’s forum on bridging the divide between geriatrics and palliative care. She notes that collaboration makes sense in 2010 as unprecedented gains in life expectancy are leading to an exponential rise in the number of old frail patients with multiple chronic complex diseases. There is high symptom burden and care needs of these patents and their caregivers, and yet they are pitted against a fragmented health care system that is facing enormous financial pressures. Each field has areas of strength that the other can learn from, however this will require mutual respect and, per Dr. Ritchie, a clear recognition of the areas of non-overlap and distinctiveness.

• VJ Periyakoil’s pre-conference workshop on “Updates in Hospice and Palliative Medicine, was not only co-sponsored by AAHPM and AGS, but also used the GeriPal, a geriatrics and palliative care community [http://www.geripal.org/2010/05/need-your-expertise.html], to solicit input prior to her workshop. Are you sad that you missed it? Don’t worry – VJ will also be leading a similar collaborative pre-conference session at the upcoming AAHPM/HPNA meeting in Vancouver.

• Sandra Sanchez-Reilly and Jennifer Kappo led the palliative care SIG. Attendees received an overview of the where the two fields are collaborating from Greg Sachs. We also discussed new possible avenues for collaboration (combined fellowship anyone???)

• Jane Givens won the award for best scientific abstract in the ethics and health disparities section. Look for interesting new findings about the impact of antimicrobial treatment of pneumonia in nursing home patients with advanced dementia – is it associated with longer life? Are there tradeoffs in terms of quality of life? We’ll await the final paper

• Interesting findings from an MSTAR student at Mt. Sinai Tony Vullo suggesting two previously underappreciated barriers to hospice: (1) patients don’t want to give up their current home-care providers, with whom they have established relationships; and (2) patients would receive fewer hours of in-home support than they currently receive if they switch to hospice.

What were your highlights? Leave them as comments below.

by Alex Smith, MD and Eric Widera, MD