Seniors with complex health needs can benefit from a specialist
Many older adults have multiple chronic health conditions. Treatments for one issue can easily affect other aspects of their health and worsen their overall quality of life.
Managing these complex health situations are where geriatricians (geriatric doctors) can be especially helpful.
We explain what a geriatric doctor is, how they’re different from “regular” doctors, what they do and how they benefit seniors, if your older adult should switch doctors, and where to find a local geriatrician.
What is a geriatric doctor?
A geriatric doctor is someone who specializes in caring for people 65 and older. They’re also referred to as geriatricians.
They’re doctors of internal or family medicine who have an extra 1 or 2 years of training in areas related to elder care.
Geriatricians can be primary care doctors, provide consultations, or work as part of an older adult’s medical team.
What’s the difference between a geriatric and regular doctor?
Geriatric doctors have more experience with conditions that are common in seniors and with people who have multiple chronic conditions.
They also have a better understanding of how older bodies respond to different treatments.
Internal or family medicine doctors are more likely to see patients who are between 30 and 60 years old. When treating an older adult, these doctors may have to make educated guesses based on their experience with younger patients.
Their lack of experience with aging bodies could also lead them to recommend more aggressive treatments that might not work as well for older patients.
It’s similar to how pediatricians are doctors that specialize in caring for children. In a lifetime, someone could start with a pediatrician, change to an internal medicine doctor, and then switch to a geriatrician.
What does a geriatric doctor do and how do seniors benefit?
Pay more attention to quality of life and patient goals
Geriatric doctors focus on quality of life and what patients want from their medical care.
They spend more time at each appointment and collect more information than an internal medicine doctor would. They ask about lifestyle, community, family, and get your older adult’s full medical history.
Geriatricians also focus on helping seniors and families:
- Figure out their priorities for healthcare
- Create care plans
- Review and manage all medications
- Coordinate care with other health providers
- Provide palliative and end-of-life care
In addition, knowing about differences between older bodies vs. middle-aged bodies helps geriatricians choose treatments that work better for seniors.
Understand issues that commonly affect seniors
Most primary care doctors don’t spend enough time finding out about and solving issues that affect older adults.
Falls, incontinence, muscle weakness, frailty, fatigue, cognitive impairment, and delirium have a huge impact on quality of life. Geriatricians are experts at these “geriatric syndromes.”
In a Kaiser Health News article, Dr. John Morley, professor of geriatrics at Saint Louis University, says:
“If you’re losing weight, you’re falling, you can’t climb a flight of stairs, you’re tired all the time, you’re unhappy and you’re on 10 or more medications, go see a geriatrician…Much of what we do is get rid of treatments prescribed by other physicians that aren’t working…”
Should my parent or spouse see a geriatrician?
If your older adult’s current doctor has plenty of experience with their health conditions and you’re happy with the care they provide, there’s no need to make a change.
Seniors could benefit from seeing a geriatrician if they have complex health issues like Alzheimer’s or dementia or feel that their current doctor isn’t paying enough attention to their health issues, overprescribes medication, or doesn’t take a holistic view when making treatment recommendations.
Geriatricians can dig deeper to find out if a problem is caused by non-age-related illness or injury rather than just assuming it’s due to age.
Because they’re more thorough and have more experience with older bodies, you can be more confident that their diagnosis is accurate.
Find a local geriatric doctor
To find a geriatrician in your area, use the American Geriatrics Society’s geriatrician finder on their Health in Aging website.
Geriatrics is one of the rarest medical specialties, so there might not be a geriatrician in your area. The next best thing is to find a doctor who has experience with caring for older adults.
To make sure the doctor you’re considering truly has the type of experience your older adult needs, be sure to ask for more information.
For example, you could ask:
- Have they received additional training in geriatrics?
- How do they approach caring for seniors differently than for middle-aged patients?
- Are there medications they avoid using with older adults?
At an appointment, the new doctor should want to review all of your older adult’s medications, ask about their health conditions, and ask about their goals for care.
Based on their answers and what you observe at the appointment, you’ll get a good idea of whether they take caring for seniors seriously or if they view them as basically the same as middle-aged patients.
Next Step Find a local geriatric doctor
Recommended for you:
- 7 Tips for Helping Seniors at the Doctor’s: Being a Health Advocate
- 4 Expert Tips for Managing Multiple Chronic Health Conditions in Seniors
- Medications Seniors Should Avoid: The Beers List
By DailyCaring Editorial Team
Image: Expert Home Care, Inc.
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