When Is It Time to Switch to a Geriatrician?

A geriatrician is typically an internist or family practitioner who has had additional training in the medical and psychological care of men and women age 65 and older. Geriatricians develop a special understanding of what happens to the body as it ages and what aging means with respect to your health. While aging in and of itself does not cause illness, it is associated with changing physical and mental states that affect your health and well-being.

As you age, you may have to manage more than one medical condition at a time, and that is likely to mean managing several medications. A geriatrician will be on the lookout to make sure that the symptoms of one disease aren't masking another and that the types and dosages of medications you take are balanced to prevent overdose or potentially dangerous interactions.

Even for healthy older adults, geriatricians place more emphasis on screening and prevention of conditions such as malnutrition, vision and hearing problems, high blood pressure, dental disease, and accidents both in and out of the home. Preserving quality of life becomes just as important as preserving life itself.

Because of the changes that take place in your body as you age, you may be healthy but still experience underlying fragility and vulnerability that could go unnoticed by a general family doctor. A geriatrician is less likely to shrug off any symptoms you report as simply a result of getting older when, in fact, they could be treated. Diseases often present themselves differently in older adults than in younger people. You may react to medications differently than when you were younger and recover more slowly from illnesses and accidents. Again, a geriatrician may be more adept at factoring these physiological changes into your care plan.

A physician who specializes in geriatric medicine may be the best person to address the social and emotional needs of an older adult, along with the physical challenges, than a general practitioner. Your ability to cope with and manage any medical conditions that arise can affect the quality of your treatment and your ability to recover. If you are feeling lonely, anxious, or depressed as a result of your age, a geriatrician may be better qualified to factor these psycho-social conditions into an evaluation of your overall health and thereby come up with a more suitable treatment plan.

You may recognize your own changing needs and wish to consult with a geriatrician, or a friend or family member may recommend it. It is not always easy to find a geriatric specialist, but you can start by speaking to your regular physician, who may be able to give you a referral. If you find a geriatrician who suits your needs, he or she may become your new primary care physician.



American College of Physicians: Geriatrics http://www.acponline.org/patients_families/about_internal_medicine/subspecialties/geriatrics/

Webster, J. "Geriatrics Aphorisms." Northwestern University Buehler Center on Aging 1999 Web 22 Dec 2011


University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences: What is a Geriatrician? Web 22 Dec 2011