What Is a Geriatrician?What Is a Geriatrician

Doctor’s visits are a fact of life for many older Americans, and managing a calendar full of check-ups, tests, and pharmacy visits can rival a full-time job in the amount of time required. Add to that the fact that you may be prescribed medication by several different doctors, and you have a situation that can stress out even the best organized caregivers and most conscientious patients. If your healthcare situation feels overwhelming, it’s time to call on another specialist — the geriatrician.

What is geriatrics, and why is there a need for this specialty?

Geriatrics is the branch of medicine that deals with people over the age of 65, especially those with a lot of health needs.  Geriatricians are trained to manage complex cases with the latest information on effective treatments. In addition, a geriatrician can help consolidate patient information, prevent prescription drug interactions, and help keep caregivers and other doctors on the same page. Some geriatricians, like those in a pilot program based in 13 states and Washington DC, even make regular house calls.

Who are geriatricians?

Geriatricians are board certified physicians (MDs or ODs) who have specialized education, training, and certification to provide healthcare for older adults. Most often, geriatricians are family doctors or internists who have chosen to focus on elder health, according to the American Geriatrics Society.

These specialists typically work with a team to evaluate patients and provide broad-ranging support for complicated health problems. The evaluation will include a look at all prescription and over the counter medicines to see what’s working and what might spark a dangerous drug interaction. Mood, mobility, and care resources are looked at, too. HealthinAging.org says typical geriatrics teams may include nurses, speech therapists, nutritionists, social workers, geriatric psychiatrists, physical and occupational therapists, pharmacists, and other health professionals with expertise in senior care.

When should I contact a geriatrician?

Not every older person needs a geriatrician’s care, but there are some particular situations in which a board-certified geriatrician and his or her team can be a tremendous help — both to the patient and to family and friends. HealthinAging offers these guidelines:

It’s time to contact a geriatrician if you or someone you care for is impaired by multiple health problems that include memory problems or frailty. Also, if the person has so many doctors, medications, and treatment regimens that current caregivers can’t keep up, a geriatrician can help sort out and streamline care. If family and friends are buckling under the stress of caregiving, it’s time to talk to a geriatrician, who can evaluate the patient’s overall health and care needs. And finally, if your current physician refers you or a family member to a geriatrician, be sure to follow through.

Where can I find a geriatrician?

You can use the search on the HealthinAging.org web site to locate geriatricians in your area. You may also be able to get recommendations from your current doctor or from friends and family. And don’t be afraid to consult more than one before you settle on a geriatrician to help you manage your health — making a good match is important for full communication and better health.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.

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