Thursday, February 23, 2012
Padmasri Dr VS Natarajan - Geriatrician
The art of ageing
THE BEST OF LIFE Dr. V.S. Natarajan Photo: S.S. Kumar
It's not about stopping the clock, but about positive ageing. Hema Vijay meets Dr. V.S. Natarajan, India's first professor in Geriatric Medicine, who was awarded the Padma Shri recently
Geriatrics may sound an age-old concept to us now, but back in the late Seventies, when a young and inspired Dr. V.S. Natarajan was setting up the country's first geriatric outpatient wing at the Madras Medical College and Hospital, it was a baby step into unknown territory. “I could not have done it without the support of Dr. S. Balakrishnan, the then professor of Therapeutics at MMC,” Dr. Natarajan is quick to mention.
Now, after over three decades of caring for the aged, Dr. Natarajan has been recognised for the path-breaking service he has rendered to senior citizens, by being conferred the Padma Shri this year. “It is an honour for all senior citizens of the country, is the overwhelming congratulatory message that I keep getting”, he says with a smile.
Reading Fergusson Anderson's Problems of the Aged was a great inspiration, and following late MMC Prof. A.L. Annamalai's suggestion, Dr. Natarajan headed to U.K.'s Southampton General Hospital in 1973 to train in geriatric medicine. Ever since, the doctor has continued making pioneering achievements — he established the country's first geriatric inpatient ward in 1988.
In 1996, he established the country's first M.D. programme in geriatrics under the MGR University. Dr. Natarajan was also part of the team at the NGO Senior Citizens Bureau, which started the popular senior citizens' journal, Link Age.
Then, there is the unique memory clinic that he runs for the elderly, and the free geriatric camp that he holds every week at various villages in the state, which have no access to health care, leave alone geriatric care. “When I retired, I decided to move into the community to serve”, he says, adding, “The idea was to prevent health trouble, rather than just resorting to treatment when trouble strikes”.
Over the years, Dr. Natarajan has been making a sustained pitch for promoting geriatric care through numerous research papers, books (Nutrition for Better Health in Old Age, Ageing Beautifully), videos (Mind your Mind) and conferences.
Doctor at your doorstep
Recently, Dr. Natrajan helped the Senior Citizens Bureau establish the Geriatric House Call project, which is a helpline that brings doctors and nurses to the doorstep of the elderly, through just a phone call (26412030, 9884145189, 28231388). Several of Dr. Natarajan's former students are part of this 35-doctor strong helpline which includes physiotherapists, general physicians, geriatricians, nursing assistants and even a drug delivery service (9962013178). Efforts are on to establish such help lines in the cities of Madurai and Tiruchi. Dr. Natarajan also reckons that there is great scope for trained geriatric nursing assistants. “If our poor and less educated girls and boys can be trained in this, it would be a route to financial independence for them, besides satisfying the huge need of the growing numbers of financially-independent but physically-dependent elders in society”, he points out.
Not just cardiac issues, but memory loss, dementia, osteoporosis, falls and urinary incontinences are areas that senior citizens need to stay on guard about, informs Dr. Natarajan, who never misses his morning walk and meditation routine every day. Dr. Natarajan continues, “About 30 to 40 per cent of memory loss is treatable, but many senior citizens suffer its impact without seeking treatment. And do you know, pneumonia, which troubles so many elders can be prevented by a vaccine that gives protection for 10 years? Properly handled, old age can be a good period of life.”
Especially so, if you are working for others, focused on a bigger vision than personal goals, like this 72-year-old.