What geriatricians do
Geriatricians are physicians who specialize in the care of older adults. These doctors treat diseases, conditions and other health concerns that affect the elderly, helping their patients maintain independence and avoid unnecessary hospitalizations.
Visits tend to be longer and more in-depth allowing doctors to address a range of health concerns. Trained as internal medicine doctors, geriatricians must complete seven or more years of medical education and postgraduate training then spend another year of study focused on health issues related to aging. Their training allows geriatricians to differentiate between the normal aging process and potential health concerns. For example, for a patient experiencing memory issues, a geriatric doctor may be able to determine if those issues are disease-related.
Geriatrics, which focuses on the elderly population and diseases that affect this population, differs from gerontology, which focuses on the social, psychological and biological aspects of the aging process.
Related: Guide to Internal Medicine
Other options for geriatric patients
Geriatric doctors work with the elderly population to address the health issues that affect them, from impaired vision, hearing loss and incontinence to instability and serious consequences associated with a fall.
In addition, families of older individuals facing ongoing health challenges may get help with practical concerns from geriatric care managers. As defined by the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers, GCMs are health and human services specialists who serve as an advocate for families caring for older relatives or disabled adults. They provide guidance to address quality of life issues, from giving input on housing options to facilitating communication with doctors and supervising bill-paying.
Along with providing referrals for patients who need additional care, geriatricians should be familiar with geriatric care management and other resources available to improve quality of life for older patients and their families.
Choosing a geriatric specialist
Elderly patients need to find a specialist who understands geriatric ailments and is experienced in helping them. For example, certain medications are not generally recommended for the elderly, or these medications may have special dosing standards. Geriatricians know this information and can prescribe accordingly, as well as providing advice to help patients manage a myriad of medications.
Related: Prescription Overload?
Certain illnesses like influenza and pneumonia affect the geriatric population more intensely than younger generations and are far more serious. Geriatric doctors can help with these types of issues as well.
If you know that you'll need the services of a geriatric doctor, contact your health insurance company to make sure that this medical specialty is covered. However, be aware that a shortage in geriatricians may affect your ability to see a geriatrician on short notice. Talk with your primary care doctor about your best options, should you need more immediate care.
The rapport between an elderly patient and his or her doctor is crucial to ensuring effective care, so carefully research the doctors you are considering. Verify their qualifications, education, accepted insurance plans and affiliated hospitals and check out reviews on Angie's List.