When you’re a child, you need a pediatrician. When you’re an adult, you need a primary care physician. When you’re a senior, you need a…
What do you need? Should you stay with your family doctor? For those 65 and older, what’s the next step?
We all want to stay active, engaged, and healthy, and manage the many transitions of life as best we can. Who is the best medical professional for the job?
Illness can affect an elderly person differently than a younger adult. In addition, the aging process presents us with many new health concerns, like hearing loss, balance issues, and dementia. In many cases, your primary care physician is fully equipped to address them. In other cases, you will want to consult a specialist known as a geriatrician.
So do you really need one?
The first step in determining whether you need a geriatrician is to understand who they are and what they do.
What is a Geriatrician?
A geriatrician is a family doctor or internist with advanced training in the health needs of older adults. They are fully trained medical doctors who specialize in geriatric medicine. After medical school, they are required to complete a geriatric medicine fellowship at an accredited facility and pass the Geriatric Medicine Certification Examination.
What Do Geriatricians Do?
Geriatricians diagnose and address a wide range of conditions and diseases that affect people as they age, including dementia, osteoporosis, incontinence, cancer, vision loss, difficulty hearing, osteoarthritis, insomnia, diabetes, heart problems, and depression.
On a team of healthcare professionals, geriatricians can serve as the main point of contact, staying alert of the drugs you are taking, drug interactions and side effects, and the treatments you are receiving. These physicians also stay alert for trouble signs like depression, physical frailty, and loss of appetite.
Caring for seniors often involves a complex team approach. Geriatricians are the ones who coordinate services among several key healthcare professionals. A geriatric specialist’s care team may include a geriatric nurse, a social worker, physical and occupational therapists, a registered dietitian or a certified diabetes educator, a pharmacist, and a geriatric psychiatrist. It is the geriatrician’s job to stay in touch with these resources to ensure that you are getting the right level of care and seeing improvement in your condition.
The biggest benefit of going to a geriatrician is the specific training they have in helping seniors stay active, independent, and in their home, safely and comfortably. Finding and working with a geriatric medicine doctor can offer older adults the golden opportunity to enjoy a better quality of life.
What Are the Signs You May Need a Geriatrician?
For routine services, you can still see your family doctor. For example, if you have a cold or need your blood pressure or cholesterol checked, you can rely on your primary care physician. But if you’re struggling in other areas, you may want to seek the help of a geriatrician. Here are six signs to look out for:
- You have several chronic conditions that need to be managed. Many seniors are dealing with multiple medical conditions, such as arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, and mental decline. Geriatricians specialize in the care of people with multiple chronic medical conditions that put a strain on daily functioning. For example, a 67-year-old with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes may benefit from the care of a geriatrician. A geriatrician has special training in how these conditions present challenges for seniors and how to best manage them.
- You need general home care. If you’re facing multiple health issues, you may feel overwhelmed and exhausted, especially when it comes to handling daily tasks. Seniors may need help with everyday activities such as bathing, dressing, going to the bathroom, or cooking meals. A geriatrician can help you obtain the assistance and support of the right professionals, such as a nurse or home care aide.
- You’re on multiple medications. How many prescription medications are you taking? Multiple medical conditions often require taking numerous prescription drugs. Along with taking multiple prescription drugs, many seniors also take herbal or dietary supplements. The more medications and supplements you’re on, the more at risk you are to experience drug-drug interaction, resulting in adverse side effects or a trip to the hospital. In addition, an older body breaks down medications differently than a younger one. As we get older, it becomes harder for the body to metabolize and clear away medicines. A geriatrician can review your list of medications and determine which ones are vital to your health and which ones you can eliminate.
- You’re experiencing brain fog, forgetfulness, and mental decline. Geriatricians are trained to know the normal signs of aging and what is not normal. A geriatrician can evaluate you for mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which is a prelude to dementia. Many 10people over the age of 65 aren’t even aware that they have MCI or probable dementia. While some amount of forgetfulness and brain fog is a part of aging, certain symptoms may point to depression or Alzheimer’s disease. They can also provide the appropriate treatment for these conditions.
- You’re less stable and mobile than you once were. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls are the leading cause of injuries and death from injuries among adults over the age of 65. Are you experiencing mobility problems or unsteadiness on your feet? Is frailty affecting your ability to function independently? If you don’t feel as balanced or as strong as you used to be, a geriatrician can evaluate your stability, strength, and gait. To treat your condition, a geriatrician can devise a comprehensive care plan, including exercises to do at home, physical therapy, and other helpful strategies to prevent falls.
- You’re having surgery and/or in the hospital due to a fall, broken bone, or other trauma. After being released from the hospital, a geriatrician may be able to help you resume your daily activities faster. They know the importance of getting you back on your feet and will put a holistic plan in place to help you move toward that goal safely.
Take Proactive Steps Now
If you’re in your 60s or 70s and have a family doctor that you’ve been seeing for years, AND you are generally fit, active, and healthy, then you can probably stick with your family doctor. Talk with him or her to decide what’s best for you. All the preparation you do now can help keep you healthy, high-spirited, and active in the future.