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TroveStreet® Wisdom: Understanding the role of a geriatrician

Expecting parents typically seek out a pediatrician to care for their baby as they progress through childhood.  This is because pediatricians are trained in the specialized needs of babies and children. 

On the other end of the spectrum, older adults often have different medical concerns than they had in their 30s or 40s. Yet many people have no idea that there are specialists in the care of older adults geriatrics, which became a board-certified medical specialty only in 1988.

Geriatricians offer care in outpatient settings, skilled care facilities, or hospitals.  They often work as part of a treatment team with other primary care providers and typically focus on the care of older patients who have multiple health problems or complex conditions by prioritize the conditions and medications to maximize the patient’s physical functioning and well-being. Geriatricians also help determine what’s most important for the patient’s well-being and quality of life.

Reasons for when a person may want to consult a geriatrician’s care:

  • Suffer from multiple medical conditions
  • Find that treatment for one medical condition negatively affects a second condition
  • Are experiencing functional decline or physical frailty
  • Have a disease associated with aging, such as dementia, incontinence, or osteoporosis
  • Take multiple medications and experiencing side effects that impact your well-being
  • Need longer appointments to have enough time to discuss medical concerns

When selecting a geriatrician, some things to think about include:

  • Additional Trainings/Affiliations: geriatricians affiliated with an academic medical center generally offer patients that latest advances in care
  • Accessibility: office hours, how they manage emergencies, do they offer in-home care, do they accept your insurance, how close are they to where you live, what is their preferred method of communication with you (calls, electronic portals, or in-person appointments)
  • Connection: understand how they coordinate patient care with specialists
  • Philosophy: does their treatment of care align with your health goals, do they listen to you

Not every older person needs a geriatrician, in fact, federal models estimate about 30% of people age 65 and older will.  But finding a geriatrician may not be as easy as you think.  The stigma of aging impacts the number of doctors pursuing this training, causing a shortage of professionals in the field.  This may result in a few month wait until you are able to have your first appointment. If you feel you will benefit from the care of a geriatrician, don’t delay starting the process.  Ask your primary care physician for referrals now. 

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