What is a Geriatrician?

A geriatrician is a physician who has completed a residency in either Internal Medicine or Family Medicine with an additional 1 to 2 years training fellowship in the medical, social, and psychological issues that concern older adults. Geriatric care is a growing field as the number of elders increase.

A geriatrician is a medical doctor who has additional training and experience in assessing, diagnosing and treating the problems that are especially common in people as they age. Elders may react to illness and disease differently than younger adults. Geriatricians are able to treat older patients, manage multiple disease symptoms, and develop care plans that address the special health care needs of older adults. In addition, an elderly person may suffer chronic, complex medical conditions, including physical, psychological and social issues. Geriatricians are adept at diagnosing and treating these types of issues.

Additionally, geriatricians may have an added sensitivity to helping an elderly person maintain high levels of functioning and quality of life.

Who needs a Geriatrician?

Whether your parent should see a geriatrician is based more on their individual healthcare needs. Two seniors both aged 70 may have very different degrees of disability or illness: one may have no problems at all, while the other may have serious health concerns. Geriatricians frequently provide the primary care for older adults who have complicated medical, cognitive or mental health problems that are related to advancing age.

Many elders take a dizzying array of prescription medication every day. "Polypharmacy" or over-medication is a critical problem among the elderly. Geriatricians are particularly adept at tackling this issue.

A geriatrician also will be more familiar with senior resources available in the community.

What Exactly is Geriatric Care?

Geriatricians and geriatric medicine specialists offer seniors comprehensive care, so may have a better idea of your aging parent's needs. Geriatric care assessments can take several hours. As a caregiver, bring a current list of medications, eyeglass prescription, hearing aid, dentures, and information about previous doctors with you for a health care assessment. Typically, the assessments begin with a detailed questionnaire, which may require answers from a family member.

A Geriatric Care Assessment Usually Involves:

  • A complete physical
  • A comprehensive medical history
  • A record of medications and what they are treating
  • An analysis of pain levels
  • Cognitive testing
  • A screening for osteoporosis
  • Vision and hearing tests
  • A dental exam
  • A dietary consultation
  • A social worker evaluation
  • A family conference

Do My Elderly Parents Need a Geriatrician?

As a caregiver, you may ask yourself: "Should my elderly mom or dad visit a geriatrician -- isn't their family doctor enough?"

As a caregiver to an elderly parent, you are probably juggling multiple doctors, specialists, tests, records, and prescription drugs. You may feel that adding another doctor to the mix will only complicate matters. However, the opposite is true. When many factors are involved in your aging mom or dad's care, a geriatrician, or geriatric care, can be very helpful. A geriatrician can coordinate the work of specialists and other care providers such as social workers and home health aides. If your aging parent's needs are increasing it may be helpful to consider a more comprehensive approach to care by utilizing a geriatrician to address not only their medical but their psychological and social needs as well.