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What Is Geriatric Care?

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Your parents aren’t young anymore, and you keep trying to convince them that it’s finally time to begin seeing a geriatric doctor. They insist that no, they’re fine with the primary care doctor they’re with. What is geriatric medical care and when does a senior need it?

Once a person turns 65 years old, it’s a good idea to begin seeing a geriatric doctor. If you have a complicated medical routine, several medical conditions or impairment, then visiting with a geriatric doctor is recommended at a younger age. 

Since the world of geriatric doctors is likely one that’s new to you and your senior parent, you’re probably looking for more information. Ahead, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about geriatric care, so keep reading! 

Is Geriatric Medicine A Specialty?

A geriatric doctor is known as a geriatrician. These doctors specialize in the care and special needs of older adults. They undergo additional training in the common conditions that often affect older persons.

Geriatricians rarely work alone, pairing with social workers, physical therapists, occupational therapists, pharmacists, nurses, caregivers, and other family members to create the best level of care for elderly patients.

If you had a skin issue, would you see a primary care physician? No, you’d go to a dermatologist. That’s just like how if you were pregnant, you’d see an obstetrician. Your child would go to a pediatric doctor. 

These areas of medicine are considered specialties much like geriatric medicine is. Other such areas of specialty medicine are gynecology, radiology, neurology, and oncology. 

Your primary care physician can be the connecting bridge to a specialist. For instance, if they saw a mole during your yearly checkup and wanted to ascertain whether it was cancerous, they’d refer you to a dermatologist. 

In the case of older adults, their primary care physician might recommend they see a specialist if they’re having a hard time managing their medication or if basic preventative measures haven’t helped. 

What Is The Difference Between A Gerontologist And a Geriatrician?

Once you’ve managed to convince your senior parent to visit with a geriatric doctor, you’ll likely begin researching options. At this point, you’ll come across the terms, “gerontologists” and “geriatricians”. What’s the difference between the two?

Geriatricians 

We defined geriatricians earlier. They’re medical doctors who underwent the full breadth of training to get where they are today. 

That includes attending a medical school, working as a resident, obtaining state licensure if that’s required, and becoming board certified in areas such as family medicine or internal medicine.

Geriatric doctors must take a Geriatric Medicine Certification Examination and pass it. They also complete a geriatric fellowship. 

Gerontologists  

That brings us to gerontologists. Gerontology is a field involving various elements of aging and senior health, including socially, psychologically, mentally, and physically. A gerontologist is someone who’s a specialist in this field. 

They’ll have a degree in gerontology, although not exclusively. The gerontologist might possess other degrees as well, such as psychology or nutrition. This experience allows a gerontologist to do their job even more efficiently. 

The duties of a gerontologist are to help a senior find ways to improve their life. For instance, the gerontologist might offer suggestions for fostering relationships, maintaining a healthy diet in older age, or staying active. 

What Type Of Doctor Is Best For Seniors?

Maybe your senior parent is giving you push back about seeing a geriatric doctor. They may be in denial about some of the health issues they have and they feel their primary care physician can care for their health adequately enough. 

Should you not force the issue or is it worth convincing your senior parent? Which doctor is best for them?

There’s no need to choose between a geriatric doctor and a primary care physician. As we touched on earlier, a senior’s geriatric doctor will work with other medical professionals who already see your senior, such as their primary care physician. 

However, at their age, visiting with their primary care physician once or twice a year isn’t going to cut it anymore. Your senior parent likely needs more frequent trips to the doctor for health assessments, treatment reviews, and medication fulfillment. 

What Are Geriatric Problems?

There exist a variety of diseases, conditions, and health problems that are categorized as geriatric problems. Here is an overview.

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s is a central nervous system disease that affects the brain. Nerve cells within the brain malfunction, which reduces the rate of dopamine in the brain. The primary symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include tremors, spasms, and muscle stiffness.

Other symptoms are speech issues, balance problems, sleeplessness, rigid muscles, and lack of mobility.  

Chronic Pain

Aging brings with it bodily changes that lead to aches and pains. There’s a difference between sore muscles and pain that’s so severe it interrupts the day-to-day quality of life a senior has. Chronic pain can lead to sleep difficulties, withdrawals, and becoming sedentary. 

Alzheimer’s Disease

Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease occurs when brain cells die in increasing numbers. An Alzheimer’s patient will have memory problems. They may also experience decreasing cognitive function, including confusion, concentration issues, mood changes, and depression. 

Osteoporosis

When the body absorbs bone tissue and doesn’t produce more, your bones become brittle. This is osteoporosis in a nutshell. Osteoporosis doesn’t have symptoms, per se, but it can lead to reduced height and bone brittleness that increases your risk of fractures. 

Depression

Although depression isn’t exclusively a geriatric problem, it does tend to plague some elderly. According to Mental Health America, of the 34 million adults in the United States who are 65 and up, over two million of them are depressed. 

The changes in a senior’s physical and mental condition can cause depression, as can some diseases such as dementia. 

Sleep Issues

If your elderly parent complains all the time about how they can’t sleep, their age likely has a lot to do with it. Your body produces a hormone called melatonin that lulls you off to dreamland, but as you get older, there’s less melatonin made. This is why a senior can toss and turn for hours. 

Bladder Control Problems

Another geriatric issue is bladder control problems. Age can make it harder for a senior to control their bladder, which is known as urinary incontinence.

Many seniors don’t want to talk about urinary incontinence because they’re embarrassed about it, but the problem will persist unless it is addressed.

How Old Should You Be To See A Geriatric Doctor?

At what age is it recommended that older people seek out a geriatric physician? There is no specific age, but the usual age range in which seniors might begin seeing a geriatrician is at 65 years of age or older.

By the time an adult enters what some call the golden years, they could begin experiencing one or more health conditions. Seeing a geriatric doctor at this age can allow older patients to take control of chronic conditions while they’re still feeling great.

Preventative care might also be able to ward off certain medical problems. Often, early detection and care for a disease or health issue can mitigate its effects.

In some cases, it’s recommended that an older adult or senior see a gerontologist even if they haven’t yet turned 65. For instance, if their level of support and care takes a drastic drop, that’s a good time to schedule an appointment with a geriatric doctor. 

If a senior has been diagnosed with a condition that requires them to take a myriad of medications, it’s not a bad idea to get more specialized care. That’s also true if the senior has several medical issues. 

How Do I Find A Good Geriatric Doctor?

The best health move for your senior is seeing a geriatric specialist, be that a gerontologist, a geriatrician, or both. Here are our tips for choosing the best geriatric doctor. 

Ask Your Senior’s Current Primary Care Physician For A Recommendation 

During your senior parent’s next checkup, speak to their primary care provider about any geriatric specialists they might know. More than likely, you’ll have a few names you can look into once you get home. 

Research Within Your Senior’s Healthcare Network

If your senior’s family doctor couldn’t help, you can always research available gerontologists and geriatricians who are part of your senior’s healthcare network. You can filter your search by the number of miles away if you don’t want to drive hours to and from the office. 

Check with the American Geriatrics Society

Unfortunately, it may be difficult to find a local geriatrician as there aren’t many physicians who choose to go through the special training needed to manage the health care needs of geriatric patients.

To find certified geriatricians in or near your area, go to the American Geriatrics Society’s website (you may have to look in the Quick Links section in the footer area at the bottom of the home page).

You’ll be taken to a page that will allow you to filter by country, state, and city so you can find the closest geriatric healthcare professionals.

Interview Before Choosing 

As you did with all the specialists your senior parent sees, you must interview the geriatric doctor before scheduling an appointment, even if they sound good on paper. 

From the moment you step foot on the threshold, keep your eyes wide open. What is the waiting room like? What about the condition of the checkup areas? Is the equipment new? 

When you sit down and meet with the geriatrician or gerontologist, ask them about their schooling, training, and certifications. Your senior parent likely has specific health issues, so bring those up and ask what the geriatric doctor would do in a hypothetical situation.

If you’re pleased with the interview, you can schedule an appointment for your senior parent. 

Conclusion 

A senior might be 65 or older before they see a geriatric doctor, but if their health is in decline at a slightly younger age, then the sooner, the better. Now that you understand the specialty of geriatric medicine, you can make smart health decisions with your senior parent.

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