Life Lessons with Geriatrics

Dietetic Internship Rotation #2: Veterans Hospital

Length: 160 hours 


When I first began this rotation, I knew it was NOT going to be my favorite. I was put in the Home Based Primary Care unit looking after the Geriatric population for two weeks. My job was to counsel them on better eating behaviors and how to manage their diseases related to nutrition. In this population we generally saw a lot of chewing/swallowing/gastrointestinal problems, which leads to malabsorption of nutrients. These patients have reduced skeletal and cardiac muscle mass, which can restrict blood flow and circulation within the body. Often times, we saw these patients deficient in calcium and vitamin D, leading to bone fractures and falls. Going into this rotation I had a pre-conceived notion that this population and age range wasn’t going to help me much with my future career. I thought I was going to be teaching these patients all about proper nutrition because for some reason, I thought they knew nothing.

What I didn’t know was that these patients ending up teaching me the most important thing about life.

Life itself.


It’s a funny thing, life. When you stop teaching for yourself and begin to listen to others and what they have to say, you learn a whole new world of wisdom. You learn their world. You learn of their experiences, their traumas, their accomplishments and their goals in life. You learn who they were and what they did. You learn who they still are.

Most importantly, you begin to appreciate what life gives us. The population of geriatrics sits on opposite sides of the swing. It can be sitting on the utmost saddest disposition with their precious life ending. It can also be swinging on the highest pedestal of happiness when they appreciate their last days full of life with the smallest steps forward. These people know more about life through their own experiences than any “How To” book in the library. These are the people I want to learn from.

Learning about their life.

What I learned about life from these people can be summed in one sentence, “Don’t take it for granted.” The little life these patients have, they cherish with every heartbeat. They know how precious life is and what it takes to fight for it. They have been through battles and wars, fought through the hard times and yet, they never gave up. They are still fighting, because they know what they are fighting for. Life. Most of these patients can’t walk on their own, nor can they do the little things that you and I take for granted. They can’t go grocery shopping, they can’t wash their own clothes, some can’t even eat on their own, but they continue to fight for life.



During one specific visit with a Veteran regarding weight loss, we chatted about what he should implement into his diet and what he could change in his current eating patterns. He seemed very willing to change his old habits and understood everything I was telling him. Little steps towards changing food habits takes a lot of courage for this population of people. He wanted to put his health as his number one priority because he talked about everything he still wanted to accomplish in his life. This man was 97 years old. This man was not done living his life.

When the visit was over, I asked him if he had any questions or concerns for me. Usually a patient will say no or ask when they can see a dietitian again. This patient’s response was a bit different. He asked me if I had any questions for him, regarding life. I pondered a bit and finally asked him the question we all wonder about…

“If you could tell your 20-something year old self one thing about life, what would you want him to know?”


He sat looking stumped for a bit, I could see his brain wandering back through the years and compiling an answer for me.


“I would tell him, life is full of hobbies. Find as many hobbies as you can and pour your heart into them. Find hobbies that make you grow with wisdom, creativity, love and knowledge.”


The more I thought about what this man said, the more I came to realize the truth in his words. Life is full of hobbies, find as many as you can and master them.



Hob-by: noun:

an activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure.

Why would we waste our days filled with worthless moments if they were not enjoyed like we enjoy hobbies? We must find what we enjoy in life and combine it with our natural talent.  Making our hobby become our career, living a happy and fulfilled life. Enjoying life while we grow, learn and love. That is what this man is saying.

I hope I have given you something to chew on.









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One Comment Add yours

  1. John WHITE says:

    Thank You for sharing and giving me something to chew on.

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