Geriatricians, The Gold Standard for the Golden Years

Posted on July 1, 2013

Between 2010 and 2030, the population over 65 will increase by 73%! Seventy million people (One out of every five Americans) will be over 65. This is the first in medical history. Although a number of medical schools require course work in geriatrics/gerontology, many still have only elective courses or no courses at all.

What Is a Geriatrician?

A geriatrician is a doctor who specializes in the area of senior health, whether it is treatment or prevention of disease in older adults. Geriatricians are board-certified in family medicine or internal medicine, and have also obtained the Certificate of Added Qualifications in Geriatric Medicine.

Why Do You Need a Geriatrician?

Throughout life our bodies are continuously changing. As children we require the special knowledge and skills of a Pediatrician. As older adults, Geriatricians can provide the expertise needed for effective and safe diagnosis, treatment and prevention. Certain conditions and diseases will more likely occur and the treatment options are not necessarily the same as in a younger person. Most of the time, a general internist or family physician can serve as your primary care provider, especially if he or she is experienced in dealing with older people. But if you are especially frail or have complicated medical problems, you might want to switch to a geriatrician. The American Geriatrics Society (AGS) suggests that a geriatrician be consulted when:

  • Significant age-related frailty and impairment occur, which is more likely in older people who have multiple diseases, disabilities, and/or mental problems.
  • The patient’s condition is causing the caregiving team, including family members and friends, to feel significant stress and strain.


The Geriatric Health Care Team

When choosing a Geriatrician, you will be supported by a geriatric health care team that is more likely to approach your care holistically. Your geriatric health care team may include nurses, social workers, nutritionists, physical and occupational therapists, pharmacists, and psychiatrists who have special training or experience in treating older adults.

Your team will work with you to evaluate both current and past illness in order to develop a plan of care that is right for you. In addition, you will work with your team to identify if you are having problems with any so-called activities of daily living (ADLs) like bathing, dressing, meal preparation and eating so that you can come up with proactive solutions for self-care (preventing larger problems) or identifying if some form of assistance is needed for health and safety.


Finding a Good Geriatrician for You

Making a change can be difficult, especially if you have a good relationship with your current doctor. However, if you think a geriatrician might be right for you or for a loved one, talk with your current doctor about your needs. Sometimes it can be arranged to have a geriatrician work with your current physician as a consultant for particular issues or if your situation is complicated, a complete switch may be in order. In any case, your physician should be able to refer you to a qualified geriatrician in your area. Another resource for finding a local geriatrician is the AGS Foundation for Health in Aging, a nonprofit organization that provides a referral service online or by phone at 1-800-563-4916.

When choosing any new physician, list two or three possibilities and call their office and ask any questions you may have before making an initial appointment.

  • How many years has he/she been a geriatrician? How many years has he/she been practicing? What medical school did he/she attend? Where did he/she do his residency?
  • Does the physician accept your insurance?
  • What are his/her hours? What is their after-hours policy?

After you choose a geriatrician, set up an introductory visit. If after your visit you are comfortable with your choice, arrange to have your records transferred prior to your follow-up visit. Many times the physician’s office will have a form to release this information to their office. This information will be vital to the entire geriatric care team to develop your new individualized care plan.

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