Making the Switch: When to see a Geriatrician


June 23, 2023


Making the Switch: When to see a Geriatrician

People over the age of 65 often wonder if they should start seeing a geriatrician instead of their regular primary care physician, as their health care needs tend to change and may become more complex as they get older. Dr. Suzanne Salamon, Associate Chief of the Division of Gerontology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, explains how a geriatrician can offer older adults the support they need to maintain good health.

What is a geriatrician?

A geriatrician is an internal medicine physician who has received additional training specifically in treating older adults. Geriatricians diagnose and treat age-related health conditions, and offer counseling to help prevent and manage health issues that can arise later in life, including memory loss, falls, frailty, and incontinence.

Why should someone over the age of 65 consider seeing a geriatrician?

Often as we age, the number of medical problems increases. And with this, the number of medicines we take also increases, along with side effects and drug interactions. While most internists and family practitioners can manage these issues, there are times when someone with experience in juggling multiple specialists, tests, medical records, and medications can be beneficial.

A consultation with a geriatrician can help if you (or a loved one) are managing multiple medical issues such as memory loss, urinary frequency or incontinence, Parkinson’s disease, falls, arthritis, or polypharmacy (too many pills). It can become overwhelming. Someone who is quite frail, having difficulty managing their activities of daily living or wishing to discuss “end of life” decisions may also benefit from consulting a geriatrician.

But not everyone over the age of 65 needs to see a geriatrician. The need depends more on the number and complexity of the person’s medical conditions than on chronological age. Your primary care physician can help you determine whether the switch to a geriatrician is right for you.

How can a geriatrician help a caregiver to the elderly?

Caregivers who need help developing a care plan for older parents or relatives can think of a geriatrician as the coordinator of their loved one’s health care team. That team might include a psychiatrist, a social worker, a nurse, and/or a physical therapist.

Geriatricians can also help caregivers decide whether the person’s present home is the best home at this time, or if more support is needed for safety.

What can a patient expect when they see a geriatrician for their regular physical/wellness exam?

It’s important for the patient or the caregiver to come prepared with a list of questions about a number of medical issues — even if they have not experienced trouble in these areas. First, of course, patients should be asking their doctor about the problems or conditions they are dealing with at the moment, as well as their current medications.

The most important medical issues seniors should ask their geriatrician about include:

  • Blood pressure
  • Cholesterol
  • Bone density
  • Colonoscopies
  • Weight
  • Hearing
  • Vision
  • Mood
  • Flu shots

These are all things that need to be continually looked at as one gets older. It’s really proactive for the patient or caregiver to ask about them before experiencing problems. Geriatricians can often help patients pick up on signs of these types of issues before they potentially become serious and more difficult to treat. As needed, we can refer patients to the other geriatric specialists we work with to help provide more advanced care or support.

Source: Boston Magazine

EDITORS’ NOTE:  Many communities have few, if any, geriatricians, physicians specializing in medical care of older adults. If Geriatricians are not available or available at long distances, an internal medicine physician is a good choice. Geriatricians are internal medicine doctors with additional training and experience in working with the needs of older adults. Online searches will help you find the best doctor for your care receiver. For example, enter these search terms: “geriatricians” + your zip code. Or, “Internal medicine physicians” + zip code.
You will usually find doctors not only in the area you searched but those who are in the larger cities, which may or may not be convenient for the older adult or their family caregiver. Also available are independent practitioners in geriatrics and internal medicine in smaller communities. Assessments are essential. The North Texas area has many clinics which provide thorough assessment and treatment of older adults. 
Well known for their practice and research (this is not a comprehensive list):  
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