Helping the elderly age gracefully

Kate Martin | March 21, 2013

Dr. Cara Borggren is on a mission to help the elderly understand how they can age gracefully.

With a sincere smile and genuine interest, the doctor strides into the room and greets her patient. She asks about his day, and how he’s been feeling. The doctor listens intently as her patient talks about the weather and the news. She listens as he describes a significant decrease in back pain, and cheerfully reports that he’s been riding his bike every day. Nearly ten minutes of conversation take place before the exam and treatment begin. This unhurried pace may be a thing of the past in other health care settings, but it is the norm at Northwestern’s clinics.

The patient in this scene is 82 years old. His daily bike ride? A three-mile trek around Lake Nokomis in Minneapolis. The doctor who helps him maintain his active lifestyle is Cara Borggren, (’06), a chiropractor on a mission to help the elderly understand how they can age gracefully.

“I want to let this aging population know that we can help keep them comfortable so they can maintain their lifestyle,” says Dr. Borggren. “If I can manage someone’s shoulder pain so they can fix their hair, they might be more likely to go out and do more things, therefore staying more active and vastly improving their quality of life and longevity.”

Some people choose their career with keen focus and intention. But for some, a career path chooses them. That’s what happened to Dr. Borggren, who recently returned to Northwestern from New York to build a chiropractic geriatrics specialty practice at our Bloomington clinic.

“I’d say I was in the right place at the right time,” says Dr. Borggren. After she graduated from Northwestern, she was looking for associate opportunities when she received an e-mail about a new residency program in geriatrics at Northwestern. “I was intrigued. I never dreamed of doing this type of practice. It’s a really good fit, but not something that I would have predicted.”

During that three-year Clinical Sciences in Geriatrics residency, Dr. Borggren gained a new-found appreciation for the elderly and their experiences within the health care system. She was surprised to find that often older people didn’t get the care they deserved. “There is often a lack of caring for the whole being,” she says. “There’s no one pulling all the pieces together.”

She was excited to be part of a team at Northwestern, along with another geriatrics fellow and Dr. Paul Osterbauer. All attended weekly case conferences and grand rounds at Fairview Southdale Hospital and the University of Minnesota. “We found opportunities to share what we were doing,” she notes.

While Dr. Borggren was a resident she also completed a one-year research fellowship, focusing on implementing chiropractic, acupuncture and massage in aging populations at long-term care facilities through the Veterans of America (VOA). Around the time her residency was wrapping up, New York Chiropractic College (NYCC) recruited her. “My colleagues at Northwestern were fully supportive of me taking the position,” Dr. Borggren recalls.

She spent three years in New York as Director of Chiropractic Consultative Services, and running an NYCC clinic within a long-term care hospital. Dr. Borggren recalls it was a “very intimidating practice. Many patients were under our care before they died. Most had severe limitations – MS; ALS; post-stroke care. We primarily just provided comfort care.”

Soon she was ready to return to Minnesota and her extended family here. She’d been keeping in touch with Dr. Mike Wiles, Northwestern Provost [and current interim President], and together they envisioned a geriatrics specialty practice in Bloomington.

Dr. Borggren returned to Northwestern in April 2012, to bring that vision to life. She cares for patients of all ages, but the majority fall in the “elderly” range. “My goal is to help my patients improve their quality of life,” says Dr. Borggren. “I want to help them maintain their current situation and level of care.” She concentrates on activities of daily living, range of motion, lower back pain, and concerns with extremities: shoulders, knees, and hips. “My patients present with a wide range of concerns and injuries due to aging and degeneration,” says Dr. Borggren. But she notes they have a common goal – they want to feel good and be able to enjoy their retirement.

Working closely with other providers in the Bloomington Clinic to determine the best treatment options for her patients, Dr. Borggren frequently makes referrals for acupuncture, massage therapy or naturopathic medicine. She also refers out of Northwestern’s clinic for medical specialties such as orthopedics or neurology when appropriate.

Dr. Borggren is eager to continue to build her growing specialty practice. She’s excited about the changes taking place in the Northwestern clinics, and the added benefits she’ll be able to offer her patients.

“We have a great opportunity here with the aging population in Bloomington and the surrounding communities,” she notes. “We have an excellent clinic system, plus exercise and aquatics programs for seniors. We really have a lot to offer.”

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