geriatrician conversating with elderly women on a wheel chair outdoors

What Is a Geriatric Specialist? What They Do, Benefits and the Bottom Line

As we age, our health needs become more unique (and often more prominent). While primary care physicians know a thing or two about the diseases that are most common in elderly individuals, they are often ill-equipped to tackle all of the specifics.

That’s why it’s necessary for seniors to see specialists who are trained to be more cognizant and empathetic to the health problems that are most common in older populations.

These specialists are called geriatric specialists, or geriatricians, and they’re essential healthcare professionals for elderly individuals. 

Let’s learn more about what they do and how they can benefit your loved one’s quality of life.

What Does a Geriatrician Do?

You probably went to a pediatrician when you were a kid, as these doctors specialize in the unique problems and challenges that occur in children. A geriatrician can be thought of as pretty much the same thing, except they focus on older adults rather than younger ones.

Geriatricians are fully trained medical doctors that have graduated from medical school and completed residency requirements. They’re also certified in internal or family medicine and have passed the Geriatric Medicine Certification Examination.

Specialized Treatment

There are a number of diseases that are more common in older adults as opposed to other populations, such as dementia. Geriatricians have an advanced understanding of these illnesses and how they can impact the lives of older adults.

Conditions that a geriatrician specializes in treating include:

  • Dementia
  • Arthritis
  • Incontinence
  • Hearing and vision loss
  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Loss of bone density
  • Balance issues
  • Sleep disturbances

Geriatricians don’t just focus on physical health. A field of healthcare called geriatric psychiatry focuses on the mental health issues that become more common with age, such as depression or anxiety. 

They may work in conjunction with social workers or occupational therapists to help elderly individuals learn new ways of thinking and behaving so that they can get the most out of their lives.

Care Coordination

A geriatrician’s work doesn’t stop at diagnosing and treating conditions. They also act as a point of contact between other healthcare providers to help keep track of medications or treatment plans.

This is helpful for individuals with multiple different conditions, as it makes sure that proper care is being given across the board.

Education

Geriatricians are most concerned with their patient’s quality of life. This means that when they’re done doing work inside the office, the goal is for elderly individuals to continue healthy living outside

Geriatricians will educate individuals on exercise and nutrition, mental health coping strategies, transitions, and living environments to help prevent problems down the road or reduce existing issues from home. 

Benefits of Working With Geriatricians

If your loved one isn’t getting the best course of treatment from their primary care physician (PCP) alone, it may be because they don’t fully understand their unique needs. PCPs are professionals and are highly necessary, but they should be considered generalists when it comes to geriatric healthcare. In other words, it may be time to find someone with extra training.

Long-Term Treatment

Most primary care physicians may meet with their patients once and then ask them to follow up once after a few weeks. However, since most conditions in elderly individuals like dementia or arthritis are chronic, it’s important that doctors are able to meet with them consistently to monitor the symptoms. 

Geriatricians will meet with your loved one more frequently than a PCP in order to address their needs as they progress. Additionally, each appointment is usually scheduled for longer so that you or your family have enough time to address questions and concerns.

Individualized Care

One of the biggest benefits of geriatricians is that they can better understand and empathize with the challenges presented with aging. A report found that nearly 39% of PCPs frequently feel uncomfortable addressing questions about Alzheimer’s, a common disease among elderly individuals. Despite that, 82% of PCPs said they are on the front lines of dementia care.

Geriatricians, on the other hand, have undergone extensive training to make them more equipped to address health problems most often associated with aging. This can give your loved one higher quality care and make you feel more comfortable that they are getting the treatment necessary.

Additionally, there are some barriers and challenges to geriatric care such as cognitive, language, or memory impairment. Geriatricians are trained to be able to deal with these obstacles to address your loved one’s needs.

Coordinated Care

If you’re a caregiver for an elderly person, then you already know how tiresome it can be to relay information between their primary care physician, orthopedic specialists, psychiatrist, social workers, etc. However, a geriatrician can work to meet multiple needs in one fell swoop.

Geriatricians can excel in helping individuals with multiple health conditions. Additionally, they can relay information between other specialty providers when necessary to help alleviate the burden from you.

Not to mention, geriatricians can help to manage multiple medications when required.

How To Choose a Geriatrician

Choosing the right geriatrician can be important for you and your family member, as it can help to dictate the quality of care received. There are a few simple things to look for.

Accessibility

You’ll want to make sure that the geriatric specialist has availability at the time of day that your loved one prefers to meet. Additionally, check to see if they take the right insurance or if they provide any at-home services, such as telemedicine, to make it easier on your loved one to get care.

Training

Check to make sure the doctor has special certifications and academic background in treating elderly populations. Some primary care physicians may not have completed the certification requirements, so it never hurts to ask beforehand.

Communication

Find out how the geriatrician coordinates care between other specialists like psychiatrists or cardiologists. Also, see if they’re able to contact you and your loved one through your preferred method, such as email or phone call.

You may also want to see if they offer messaging services or face-to-face meetings on smartphones or computers.

Personality

You want to make sure that the geriatrician will be on the same page as you and your loved one. Make sure that your goals and preferred treatment practices are in line and be sure to ask what other programs or services they might be able to offer. 

For example, if you’ve found that occupational therapy has been particularly helpful for your loved one, make sure the geriatrician is familiar enough with this to help your loved one continue this care. 

If your loved one doesn’t like their geriatrician, that’s okay! Keep working until you find one where they feel most comfortable.

When Is a Geriatrician Recommended?

It can be hard to tell exactly when it’s a good idea to switch from a primary care physician to a geriatrician. 

While there is no right age to start seeing a geriatric specialist, there are a few times when seeing one can be helpful:

  • If your loved one suffers from multiple conditions.
  • If functional decline or physical frailty is prominent.
  • If your loved one has a disease related to aging like incontinence or dementia.
  • If one treatment has adverse effects on another condition.
  • If your loved one needs help managing multiple medications.

Talk to your loved one to see if going to a geriatrician is something they prefer. Remember that there are multiple subsets of geriatric care, such as behavioral health and wellness or social work, that may be more applicable to their specific needs.

The Bottom Line

Geriatricians are specialists who are trained to diagnose and treat conditions associated with aging. They have a better understanding of diseases like dementia, arthritis, or incontinence and are more effective than PCPs for the unique needs of senior populations.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Geriatricians diagnose and treat health conditions while also coordinating care with other providers.
  2. Mental healthcare is a specialty of geriatric healthcare that’s just as important as physical care.
  3. Geriatricians can provide long-term, individualized care for multiple conditions.
  4. When choosing a geriatrician, make sure they match the needs of your loved one.
  5. There is no right or wrong time to start seeing a geriatrician.

If you’re looking for high-quality, specialized care for your loved one, Lightyear Health may have everything they need all under one roof. From geriatric psychiatry to medical rehabilitation, our team of professionals can improve quality of life for you and your loved one alike.

Click here to learn more.


Sources:

Is geriatrics a primary care or subspecialty discipline? | NCBI

Primary Care Physicians on the Front Lines of Diagnosing and Providing Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care: Half Say Medical Profession Not Prepared to Meet Expected Increase in Demands. | Alzheimer’s Association

Specialists in Aging: Do You Need a Geriatrician? | Johns Hopkins Medicine

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