Newswise — The branch of medicine dealing with the health and care of older adults is getting an upgrade at Upstate Medical University.

Geriatrics is being elevated to its own clinical department, just like other specialties, such as Surgery, Psychiatry, Neurology and Neurosurgery. Upstate joins only a handful of other academic health science institutions across the country to make Geriatrics its own clinical department.

Nationally prominent geriatrician Sharon Brangman, M.D., who has led Upstate’s Division of Geriatrics for 20 years, will be the inaugural chair of the Department of Geriatrics. Brangman, a SUNY Distinguished Professor, is a former president of the American Geriatrics Society and is a leading voice for the care of elderly across the nation.

“As America ages, we must sharpen our focus to address the issues of the elderly with all aspects of Upstate’s mission: teaching, research and clinical care,” said Upstate Medical University President and Health System CEO Danielle Laraque-Arena, MD, FAAP. “The time is right to make this a priority for our university and with the leadership of Dr. Sharon Brangman we can make great strides in this effort.”

Senior Vice President and Executive Dean Julio Licinio. MD, PhD., said: “I am pleased to support an entire clinical department to the focus of the health and well-being of the elderly.  We will make this area a priority in all areas of our operation, from the teaching and training of our students and residents, to strengthening the care we give patients and support for caregivers and ensuring that research in this area is pursued with great vigor.”

Currently Geriatrics is a division of the Department of Medicine. The move to its own clinical department, effective July 1, recognizes the increase in numbers of older adults and the increasingly complex overlap with other medical specialties in the care of elderly. Statistics show that about 15 percent of the U.S. population is 65 and older. By 2050 that percentage will be 22.5 percent, with those individuals who are 85 years of age and older increasing at the fastest rate. And while many elderly are more active than people their age were years ago, nearly all individuals over the of 65 have some chronic illness. According to the National Council on Aging, about 92 percent of seniors have at least one chronic disease and 77 percent have at least two. Heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes are among the most common and costly chronic health conditions causing two-thirds of deaths each year.

The decision to elevate the profile of Geriatrics at Upstate also was in part a reflection by the university to sharpen its focus on treating and researching Alzheimer’s disease, which will be supported with plans for the Nappi Longevity Institute, the new building named for benefactors Sam and Carol Nappi, that will have special focus on healthy aging and Alzheimer’s disease. Groundbreaking for the building, which will be located at the corner of Almond and East Adams streets, is set for this fall.

The creation of a Department of Geriatrics will bring additional funding for enhanced services, faculty positions and research, all aimed at the care and well being of older adults.

“I am grateful for the support Upstate has provided for the clinical care and study of diseases that affect our oldest patients,” Brangman said. “The medical world is starting to understand the impact older patients are having on our healthcare system. With the focus on our patients and their families, we must address all aspects of caring for this vulnerable population.

Under Brangman’s leadership, Upstate has made significant enhancements in the care of older adults, by developing new treatment protocols and services.  In 2013, Upstate opened GEM (Geriatric Emergency Medicine) Care, an emergency department at the Community Campus offering specialized care for older adults. Upstate also has been designated as a NICHE (Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders) in recognition of its geriatric-trained nurses. The hospital also employs an interdisciplinary team-based approach with its ACE Team (Acute Care for the Elderly) to provide comprehensive and patient-centered care for older adults. The Transitional Care Unit at the Community Campus is a special section of the hospital that cares for patients who are recovering but not yet ready to go home and still need specialized care, nursing and other hospital services.

The study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease is an important focus of Geriatric Medicine. Upstate is already a state-designated Center of Excellence for Alzheimer’s Disease (CEAD) that provides patients with integrated, comprehensive and coordinated medical services for the diagnosis and management of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. The CEAD also educates health care providers and students on the detection, diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. The CEAD serves as a regional resource, serving 15 counties, providing coordinated delivery of services to patients and their families which is essential to allow these individuals to remain at home in their communities for as long as possible.

The number of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease in the United States is currently estimated at 5.7 million. By 2050, experts say that number will likely hover around 14 million.

The elevation to a clinical department could also increase the number of residency slots Upstate offers in geriatrics. Currently, Upstate support two fellowships in the specialty.

The region’s largest employer with more than 9,000 employees, Upstate Medical University is the only academic medical center in Central New York, serving the state from Canada to Pennsylvania with its educational, clinical and research missions. A highlight of Upstate’s leading role in the region is its ability to ensure access to vital one-of-a-kind services, such as burn and trauma care and an array of highly specialized stroke, cancer and neurosurgical and pediatric services through its 715-bed Upstate University Hospital, which includes the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital.  In addition to its clinical mission, Upstate, which is one of the State University of New York (SUNY)’s 64 campuses enrolls 1,600 students and offers degrees in medicine, nursing and a variety of health professions, and conducts more than $30 million in funded research.