A geriatrician is a medical doctor who is specially trained to meet the unique healthcare needs of older adults. Illnesses, diseases, and medications may affect older people differently than younger adults, and older patients often have multiple health problems and take multiple medications. Geriatricians prevent, manage and develop care plans that address the special health problems of the elderly.
In short, geriatricians “quarterback” your health care. That is, they manage and coordinate your overall health care, regularly working with any specialist you may be seeing. For this reason, appointments with geriatricians are usually scheduled for longer so that you have enough time to share any and all issues you are dealing with.
What Does a Geriatrician Do?
Every organ system undergoes changes, including the nerves, the heart, the muscles, the skin, etc. Most of our medical knowledge is based on studies of younger people without these age-related system changes. In geriatrics, we have figured out how to apply the medical information to people with inherently different physiology.
The objective of the geriatric assessment is to see what the patient can do and what limitations they have in order to optimize function. The more functional a patient is, the better their outcomes (medically, socially, and psychologically).
When to See a Geriatrician?
Typically, patients 65 and older can benefit from seeing a geriatrician. A geriatrician can be helpful if you are managing multiple medical conditions, are experiencing functional decline, are becoming increasingly frail. Additionally, it might be time to see a geriatrician if you have a disease or syndrome associated with aging or are balancing multiple medications (called polypharmacy), both of which are discussed below:
What are Some Syndromes Associated with Aging?
- Syncope (passing out)
- Eating problems
- Sleep problems
- Hearing impairment
- Visual impairment
- Gait impairment
- Pressure ulcers/wounds
What is Polypharmacy (Managing Multiple Medications)?
Polypharmacy simply means you are taking many medications to manage several different medical problems. Older patients are at risk because they are more likely to have complex medical problems and more likely to have multiple providers prescribing medications, which could lead to more interactions. Older patients are also more likely to experience side effects.
Approximately 44% of men and 57% of women older than 65 take five or more medications per week. And, about 12% of both men and women take 10 or more medications per week. Geriatricians incorporate a medication review into every visit with a goal to simplify regimens, help decide what is necessary, and adjust doses if needed.
Geriatrics in Different Settings
Geriatricians are available to help in several settings, including on an outpatient basis (doctor’s office/clinics), independent living/assisted living, nursing homes, and in the hospital.