Could a Geriatrician Be the Best Doctor for You?

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It’s no secret that Americans are getting older. According to recent U.S. Census data, the median age in the U.S. is shifting older, and there are now nearly 50 million Americans over the age of 65, making up 15 percent of our population. And as we continue to age, there’s going to be increased need to seek out doctors and other healthcare professionals who understand how to address the unique needs of this growing group. That’s where the field of geriatrics comes in. Here’s what you need to know about this subspecialty focused solely on the care of seniors, and how a geriatrician can be an important partner in your care.

What is a geriatrician?

A geriatrician is a board-certified internist or family medicine doctor who has received extra training specifically in how to care for aging adults and the health problems that come with old age. (It’s similar to how pediatricians specialize in the care of children.)

Keep in mind: The field of geriatrics isn’t limited to just primary care physicians. There are also geriatric psychiatrists and neurologists, as well as geriatric nurses, geriatric pharmacists, and geriatric social workers, all of whom are trained to meet the needs of aging adults. In each case, these professionals can help spot issues that are more likely to arise as we age, like making sure multiple medications don’t interfere with each other or helping to develop realistic care plans for aging in place.

What do they do that other doctors don’t?

While a good internist can provide excellent care for older adults, geriatricians may be more adept at asking questions and addressing concerns particular to this life stage. That can sometimes mean going beyond treating physical ailments and finding more holistic strategies that take your entire life into account.

For example, a geriatrician might discuss home modifications if you’re recovering from a fall, or suggest strength training if an old knee injury has started to limit mobility. Geriatricians also often provide emotional support, as older adults are often more likely to deal with depression and isolation as well as age-related memory loss.

Many older adults may not need to see a geriatrician if their aging process includes few complications or issues, or if they are happy with the care they’re currently receiving from their general practitioner. But for some older adults who have chronic diseases, like heart disease or osteoporosis, or other issues that can arise as part of aging (such as more frequent falls, dementia, or respiratory problems), a geriatrician may provide more sensitive and well-rounded care.

Where can you find a geriatrician?

Unfortunately, the field of geriatrics is getting smaller, as fewer internists opt for this specialty. The American Geriatrics Society estimates that to meet the demands of an aging population, the U.S. would need to have at least 30,000 geriatricians practicing by 2030. Considering there are only roughly 7,000 practicing today, a shortfall seems inevitable.

But that doesn’t mean help isn’t out there. Asking your current doctor for a referral is one way to get connected with a geriatrician, or you can use Health in Aging’s online directory to find doctors near you. Because of the dwindling numbers of doctors in this field, it can be hard to find a geriatrician who is accepting new patients. In terms of when to start the search, it’s often advised to start working with a geriatrician when you’re in your 60s or early 70s, so you have consistent care as you age.

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