Do You Need a Geriatrician?
Geriatricians are doctors who specialize in the care of older adults. Is it time for you to start seeing one?

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Picture of man in reflective state Do You Need a Geriatrician?

People are living longer, and this has changed the landscape of medical care. Those living into their 80s and 90s may have a host of chronic medical problems and often take several medications a day. These people need a doctor who knows how to manage co-existing conditions common with age. This doctor must also understand the unique challenges a disease or its treatment may cause for an older person.

A geriatrician is a doctor who:

  • Is trained in how to manage multiple illnesses and age-related syndromes
  • Has knowledge about Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, stroke, vision and hearing loss, and arthritis
  • Is trained to look for and treat incontinence, fall risk, depression, and memory loss

The focus in care may be to help the senior live on his or her own and with quality - not just to cure a disease. This might mean linking caregivers with helpful community resources. The geriatrician can also help the family with a long-term care plan.

Training and skills
Geriatricians are trained and board certified in family practice or internal medicine. On top of that is a year or more of specific training in elder care.

Geriatricians look at all aspects of the senior's life - not just physical symptoms. Does she have social support? Is he able to bathe, dress, or eat on his own? Is medicine being taken as instructed? Is it time for assisted living or hospice care?

The doctor will look for age-related problems such as:

  • Fall risk
  • Incontinence
  • Chronic pain
  • Memory loss or confusion
  • Changes in health
  • Side effects from medicine

The geriatrician may serve as the point person for a team of health care providers. This group might include medical specialists, a nurse, social worker, nutritionist, physical therapist, pharmacist, or home health aide.

Who should see a geriatrician?
Frail seniors of any age and those with complex health issues can benefit from seeing a geriatrician for primary care. If you are feeling stress or strain as the caregiver to an older adult, you might also want to talk with one. But if you're still in relatively good health and like your current doctor, you don't necessarily need a geriatrician just because you are older. Internists and family practitioners take care of most healthy seniors.

On the other hand, seeing a geriatrician might be a good option if you are a senior and you:

  • Are aged 85 and older in frail health
  • Are incontinent
  • Suffer frequent falls
  • Have serious memory loss
  • Lack social support
  • Have trouble with daily tasks
  • Require end-of-life care
  • Need medication monitoring

Getting proper care from your medical team may be able to reduce the time an older adult may have to spend in a hospital or nursing home later.

By Eve Glicksman, Staff Writer
Created on 11/17/2008
Updated on 07/01/2011
Sources:
  • Institute of Medicine. Retooling for an Aging America:Building the Health Care Workforce. Washington, D.C.:National Academies Press; 2008.
  • Warshaw GA, Bragg EJ, Fried LP, Hall WJ. Which patients benefit the most from a geriatrician's care? Consensus among directors of geriatrics academic programs. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 2008;56(10):1796-1801.
  • American Geriatrics Society. What is geriatrics?
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