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Should I See a Geriatrician?

Are you over the age of 65? Are you concerned that your medical problems may not be a part of the normal aging process? Do you want advice on how to stay healthy in later life? Do you want to discuss whether it is beneficial to continue to have screening tests such as mammograms or colonoscopies? Do you feel as though your health problems are getting in the way of living a fulfilling life?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, or if you want to have a doctor who specializes in care of the aging adult, you may benefit from seeing a geriatrician.

What is a Geriatrician?
Geriatricians are physicians who are experts in assessing, diagnosing, and treating older persons. After medical school, they perform their initial training in the specialties of either family practice or internal medicine. After this, they complete at least one extra year of specialty training by completing a geriatrics fellowship.

There are approximately 9,000 geriatricians in the United States (MDs and DOs). Additionally, there are over 2,400 board-certified geropsychiatrists (a psychiatrist trained to deal with the mental health needs and specific syndromes faced by older adults) in the country.

Our population in the U.S. is both aging and living longer. People over the age of 85 are the fastest growing portion of the population. According to the United Nations Population Division, 1 in 5 people are expected to be 65 or older by the year 2035.

What do Geriatricians do?
Geriatricians work to help older adults maintain their function. Many things change with the process of aging, from the body’s metabolism, to certain medical problems that are more common in the elderly. Geriatricians work towards enabling and empowering individuals to continue to lead a life that is fulfilling and to help them maintain the activities and pursuits they enjoy.

Geriatricians are knowledgeable in treating patients who have multiple medical problems. They are specifically trained in how these ailments affect the physical and emotional health of an elderly person.

Geriatricians are experts in geriatric syndromes, common health problems associated with aging. For example, falls, incontinence, memory problems, depression, and side effects from taking many medications are all issues frequently addressed by geriatricians.

Geriatricians also are comfortable discussing end of life issues with patients and their families, including living wills, advanced directives, and goals of care.
Geriatricians can help evaluate one’s living situation to offer modifications or services that can make home life both easier and safer. Additionally, they can help people decide which living situation is best if an elderly person is having trouble managing his or her own care at home.

Who should see a Geriatrician?
Not everyone over the age of 65 needs to see a geriatrician. Everyone is different, and people over this age have very different degrees of health, illness, and disability. Geriatricians, however, often provide care for older adults with complicated medical and social problems. According to the American Geriatrics Society, regardless of an older person’s age, a geriatrician should be consulted when:

With whom do Geriatricians work?
Geriatricians often work as part of a health care team. In addition to physicians, team members may include: nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, social workers, nutritionists, physical and occupational therapists, psychiatrists or pharmacists. This team approach is very important to make sure care is focused on the whole person.

Where do Geriatricians see patients?
Many geriatricians see patients in doctors’ offices and hospitals. Some hospitals have special hospital wings where geriatricians care for patients, and the staff is educated in some of the specific concerns that are present when elderly individuals are hospitalized (such as falls and confusion).

Some geriatricians focus on seeing patients in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and continuing care retirement communities. Others perform house calls for patients who are too frail to be able to leave their home to come to the doctor’s office.

What services does a Geriatrician provide?
Geriatricians act as the primary care providers of many elderly individuals. However, patients also often come to the office for a geriatric consultation. A geriatric consultation usually begins with filling out a detailed questionnaire about your medical history and can involve any of the following: physical exam, review of medical history and current medication list, analysis of pain, cognitive testing, osteoporosis screening, discussion of advanced directives and living will, vision and hearing test, social work consult, and family meeting. After the consultation, the geriatrician communicates findings and suggestions to the patient’s primary doctor.

If you are elderly and feel that you suffer from chronic, complex medical conditions, including social, psychological or physical concerns, or if you feel you could benefit from a geriatrics consultation to discuss functioning and quality of life, consider seeing a geriatrician.

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