New Phoebe Physician Group member Dr. Kurt Klauburg is a geriatric psychiatrist.
ALBANY — Seniors who are losing their independence, through admission into nursing homes or assisted living facilities, can often feel isolated and be forced to cope with feelings of anger and depression.
Enter the geriatric psychiatrist.
These are some of the things that Dr. Kurt Klauburg has seen in his almost 24 years of practice. Klauburg, who is new to the Albany area, most recently worked at Rolling Hills Hospital in Franklin, Tenn.
He left there when changes at the hospital ultimately resulted in the program he was working in being eliminated.
“As things changed, we needed to move south,” Klauburg said.
Klauburg received his bachelor of arts degree in biology from Simpson College in Iowa, graduated from the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in Missouri in 1984 and later attended the University of Iowa Medical Center Department of Psychiatry.
In the course of his study, he realized the geriatrics field was his calling.
“I realized in med school that I was good (at psychiatry),” he recalled. “I rotated through surgery and OB (obstetrics), and I didn’t want to do that.
“Plus, for the most part, it (psychiatry) has good hours. I wanted a life outside of medicine.”
Considering the population he has worked with, he has gained as much from his patients as they have from him.
“I’ve grown to appreciate the fact that there is a lot to be learned from them by simply talking to them,” Klauburg said.
A large part of his time relates to dementia, specifically Alzheimer’s, for which he treats the disorders themselves as well as the complications that arise.
Another big problem for this age group is isolation, particularly in this day and age.
“We are much more mobile than we used to be, so families are more spread out,” Klauburg said. “Plus, the older a person gets to be, the longer they outlive their peer group.”
Klauburg’s day generally starts at 6 a.m., at which time he is at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital doing rounds. He is in his office, located across from the hospital, by 8 a.m. — and sees folks there for the rest of the day.
At some point, he will start visiting residents of area assisted living facilities.
Troubles with transitioning into an assisted living or a nursing home situation is also a common problem he sees.
“How they do depends a lot on their capacity,” Klauburg said. “The more problems they have, the less reserve they have to deal with change.”
Part of it is because some older people are less likely to adapt to change, although, a common situation in this regard is — for example — a dementia patient whose spouse suddenly dies.
When that happens, not only is a major component of their support system gone, but the loss results in patients declining more rapidly.
“They go from ‘A’ to ‘Q’ in the alphabet,” he said. “All throughout our married lives, we are essentially 50/50 in our interactions with each other. Over time, one can lean on the other.”
Different living arrangements can also bring on feelings of grief or anger when one spouse has to be taken out of the house because their needs have surpassed the other spouse’s capabilities.
These days, due to regulations, patients experiencing such problems don’t end up in the hospital until later than they used to.
“We have sicker people in the hospital now,” Klauburg said. “There was a time in which people would be admitted to the hospital for tests. Now, what we see in the hospital is the extreme.”
Thanks to the Baby Boom, the number of those entering later adulthood are beginning to rise — suggesting a greater need for geriatric psychiatrists now and in the next few years to come.
“The specialty itself is in response to an overwhelming population change,” Klauburg said. “People are living longer, and because of that, we’ve become lopsided in our population. As a result, we have a more aging population.”
Currently, 20 percent of people age 65 and older are experiencing some sort of dementia in one stage or another, Klauburg said. By age 85, it is closer to 80 percent.
Klauburg said the best way to make sure the proper care is provided to the older population is to unsocialize medicine by elevating the level of care and ensuring it is accessible.
“The treatment of disorders of the aging population is increasing exponentially,” he said. “Just being able to keep up with research within the specialty is a full-time job.
“Changing the system will take more than helping older folks. We need to do our best to advocate for our patients, to maintain the level of care and not allow things to creep back in like in other countries.”