What Is a Geriatrician?

A geriatrician is a licensed physician who is board-certified in either internal medicine or family medicine and has an additional board certification in geriatrics that involves a one- to two-year fellowship focused on the medical, social and psychological issues that affect older adults.

Geriatricians specialize in assessing, diagnosing and treating age-related health problems. Elders may react to illnesses and treatments differently than younger adults, and geriatricians are able to help older patients manage multiple medical conditions by developing age-appropriate care plans that address their unique needs. In addition to setting and tracking healthcare goals, geriatricians also prioritize helping seniors maintain high levels of functioning and quality of life.

Who Needs a Geriatrician?

There is no “right” age to begin seeing a geriatrician. Whether a senior should establish with a geriatrician depends on their individual healthcare needs. For example, two 70-year-old patients may have very different degrees of disability or illness. One may still be very active, take no prescription medications and have few health concerns, while the other may have chronic health issues that require several medications and interfere with their daily life. Any senior can benefit from a geriatrician’s specialized training and education, but these doctors are usually recommended to provide primary care for older adults who have complex physical, cognitive or mental health problems that are related to advancing age.

As a caregiver, you may wonder if it is time to add a geriatrician to an aging loved one’s care team. Most family caregivers juggle multiple doctors, specialists, tests, records and prescription drugs. You may feel that adding another physician to the mix will only complicate matters further, but the opposite is usually true. A geriatrician can track and coordinate the work of specialists and other care providers, such as therapists, social workers and home health aides, help manage a senior’s medication regimen to prevent adverse effects and interactions, and they are typically more familiar with supportive resources available to elders in the community.

Establishing with a Geriatrician

Geriatricians and other geriatric specialists, such as geriatric oncologists, geriatric psychiatrists and geriatric cardiologists, offer comprehensive care and work with other members of a senior’s care team to get a complete picture of their lifestyle and healthcare needs. The first step when establishing with a geriatrician is to undergo an extensive geriatric care assessment. A senior (or their caregiver) must bring a current list of medications, eyeglass prescription, hearing aids, dentures, and information about previous and current doctors to this initial appointment. Typically, the assessments begin with a detailed questionnaire, which may require answers from a family member.

To get started, the geriatrician will usually gather or conduct the following:

  • A complete physical
  • A comprehensive medical history
  • A record of medications and their purpose
  • 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
  • An evaluation of activities of daily living (ADLs)

This information will allow the doctor to make any additional diagnoses and create a treatment plan that is appropriate for a senior’s medical needs, abilities and socioeconomic status.

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