What can you tell me about geriatrics doctors? My father, who is 82, takes eight different prescription drugs for different health issues but has not been feeling like himself lately. I am wondering if he would benefit by seeing a geriatrician in place of his regular primary care physician.
If your dad is dealing with a variety of health problems and is taking multiple medications, a visit to a geriatrician may be just the antidote to help get him back on track. Here is a rundown of the different types of health conditions geriatricians treat and some tips to help you locate one in his area.
For starters, it is important to know that geriatricians are family practice or internal medicine physicians that have had additional specialized training to manage the unique and oftentimes multiple health concerns of older adults. Just as a pediatrician specializes in caring for children, a geriatrician is trained to provide care for seniors – usually those over age 75.
While most doctors are trained to focus on a person's particular illness or disease, geriatricians are trained to take a holistic view of the circumstances that can affect elderly patients, not just their patient's physical symptoms. Geriatricians are trained to coordinate treatments among a patient's specialist. They often work with a team of other health care professionals like geriatric-trained nurses, rehabilitation therapists, nutritionists, social workers and psychiatrists to provide care.
Patients who may benefit from seeing a geriatrician are elderly seniors with multiple health and age-related problems. Some of these problems may be diagnosed illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, confusion, memory problems, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, diabetes, hypertension, depression, respiratory problems, osteoporosis, arthritis and chronic pain. Other difficulties may include mobility issues, incontinence, vision impairment, hearing impairment, trouble with balance or tendency to fall.
Geriatricians are also particularly adept at tackling problems with medication. Because many seniors, like your dad, take multiple medications at the same time for various health conditions, and because aging bodies often absorb and metabolize drugs differently than younger adults, unique side effects and drug interactions are not uncommon. A geriatrician will evaluate and monitor your dad's medications to be sure they are not affecting him in a harmful way.
Geriatricians can also help patients and their families determine their long-term care needs. Some physicians provide opinions on how long patients can remain in their own homes safely without assistance and what type of services may be necessary when they do need some extra help.
Find a Geriatrician
Unfortunately, there is a shortage of geriatricians in the U.S. Depending on where you live, finding one may be challenging. Not all seniors need to see a geriatrician. Seniors with fewer health problems may be just fine seeing their primary care physician.
To locate a geriatrician in your area, use Medicare's online physician search tool. Just go to Medicare.gov/physiciancompare and type in your ZIP code, or city and state in the "Enter your location box" and then type in "geriatric medicine" in the Search box. Alternatively, you can get this information by calling Medicare at 800-633-4227. The American Geriatrics Society also has a geriatrician finder tool on their website at HealthInAging.org.
Keep in mind that locating a geriatrician does not guarantee your dad will be accepted as a new patient. Many doctors already have a full patient roster and cannot accept any new patients. You will need to call the individual doctor's office to find out.
Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.