Senior Citizen's Guide digital books
Senior Citizen's Guide

Defining Geriatrics
Specialized Care for Older Adults

Geriatrics is the branch of medicine that focuses on healthy living and the prevention and treatment of disease and disability in later life.

A geriatrician is a medical doctor who treats older patients, prevents and manages multiple disease symptoms, and develops comprehensive care plans that address the special health care needs of older adults. Older persons may react to illness and disease differently than younger adults.

Generally, geriatricians are primary care physicians who are board-certified in either Family Practice (FP) or Internal Medicine (IM) and have also acquired the additional training necessary to obtain the Certificate of Added Qualifications in Geriatric Medicine (CAQGM).

Approximately 9,000 geriatricians practice in the U.S. In addition, several hundred osteopathic physicians (DO) are certified in geriatrics, as well as some 2,400 board-certified geropsychiatrists, psychiatrists trained to deal with the mental health needs and specific syndromes older adults may face. Other health care professionals, such as nurses, pharmacists, and physical therapists, may acquire advanced training and hold special certifications in geriatrics.

Geriatrics: The Team Approach

The geriatrics team evaluates the social support usually a spouse, children, or friends, and his or her living and community conditions available to a patient. The team also considers the patient's ability to perform activities of daily living (ADLs), such as bathing, dressing, and eating. While the geriatrician often serves as the "point person," each member of the geriatrics team is a skilled health professional who contributes his or her own valuable expertise in the proper assessment and care of an older patient. The geriatrics team may include any or all of the following professionals: nurse; social worker; nutritionist; physical therapist; occupational therapist; consultant pharmacist; and/or a geropsychiatrist.

Who Should See a Geriatrician?

People over age of 65 have different degrees of disability and illness. Some have no problems at all; others have many serious health concerns. While primary care physicians, general internists, and family physicians most often care for older adults, geriatricians are often consulted for the frailest of older persons as well as those older adults who have complicated medical and social problems.

Regardless of an older person's age, a geriatrician should be consulted when a person's condition causes considerable impairment and frailty. These patients tend to be over the age of 75 and coping with a number of diseases and disabilities, including cognitive (mental) problems. A geriatrician should also be consulted if caregivers are experiencing considerable stress and strain and feel unable to provide the necessary care for the older patient.

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