Book Review: Essential geriatrics (Third Edition) by Henry Woodford

Shane O’Hanlon is a geriatrician in Reading, and Digital Media Editor & Honorary Deputy Secretary at the British Geriatrics Society. He tweets @drohanlon

As a trainee I often dreamed of a single book that would cover everything a geriatrician needed to know! In reality, I had to consult a wide variety of volumes depending on my question so my shelf was weighed down with Lecture Notes, Case Histories, Law & Ethics, Physiology, Cardiology, etc.9781910227657

The first edition of Essential Geriatrics was published during my training, but somehow didn’t register on my radar. That text has since been updated and revised, and now a third edition has just been published.

The first thing that strikes the reader is that it is a single author work, of almost 500 pages. The effort put into this book is clearly enormous, and now that it has had a few years to mature, the result is something very special.

The layout is interesting – chapters are grouped by major topic such as Brain, Bladder & Bowel, or Cardiovascular; bookended by an introductory section on “Medicine and old age” and a final pick & mix called “Selected Topics”. It is well-suited to chronological reading but also facilitates dipping into particular chapters, depending on your need/mood!

All of the major geriatric syndromes are dealt with, such as Dementia, Delirium, Movement Disorders, Continence and Falls. The level of detail is just right for trainees, and chapters are diligently researched; the stroke chapter has 173 references! But the most pleasing feature is the writing style – Woodford sounds like the kind of person who could give lengthy lectures without losing his audience’s attention. The entire volume is eminently readable, and avoids the overly academic tone (and focus) that repels trainees from some books…

It’s also fantastic to see that oft-neglected topics rightly receive an entire chapter: rehabilitation, palliative care and perioperative care are good examples. The final “Selected Topics” section deals with important areas that are bread and butter for geriatricians but don’t fit neatly elsewhere: leg ulcers, pneumonia, influenza, diabetes & COPD, among others. If you make it to the end, you will also know about lasting powers of attorney, refeeding syndrome, novel oral anticoagulants and non-convulsive status epilepticus…

In terms of educational value, it’s a fantastic book. It’s really well judged in its content, language and layout. It wisely maintains a clinical focus throughout, so that each chapter is highly relevant to our practice. Woodford’s experience is evident as he guides the reader through how patients might really describe symptoms rather than relying on clichéd “textbook” presentations. Self-assessment is easily done, as each part concludes with a generous helping of well-written single best answer multiple choice questions. This will benefit trainees who are heading towards the SCEs (Specialty Certificate Examination) or the DGM (Diploma in Geriatric Medicine).

Overall I couldn’t be more impressed with Essential Geriatrics. I struggled to find something to criticise. You could point out that very few of the references relate to material published in the past 1-2 years. Despite that, there isn’t any glaring omission from the literature. You could also ask whether any author can really be an expert on every aspect of geriatric medicine. My view is that the book benefits from its single author approach, as its content is driven by clinical need rather than research or subspecialty interest. It really does cover everything, but each chapter is just how long it needs to be, without any superfluous topics. I am envious of today’s trainees, who finally have “The One” textbook that will satisfy all their needs.


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