What is a Geriatrician? – Andrea Leavitt
In each stage of life we benefit from experts in a particular field.
From the medical perspective, we are followed by a pediatrician in our early years who addresses our primary needs. Once an adult, our care is directed by our primary care physician and we are assessed by a specialist as needed. If you have a heart matter you will see a cardiologist. The pulmonologist will address respiratory issues, the orthopedists are experts in bones and joints, the dermatologist will keep our skin healthy and an oncologist knows the most about beating cancer.
So what about when you reach advanced age? Specific needs and complications involved in aging are different than those of younger folks. Seniors require a different medical approach. One that is comprehensive and personalized.
Who is the best fit? A geriatrician.
They act as the team captain on behalf of the elder, enlisting specialists as needed in addition to ancillary professionals such as home health and hospice providers, geriatric care managers, facility nursing staff, etc.
These physicians are knowledgeable of conditions and diseases commonly experienced by the elderly and often occurring simultaneously. They are aware of how medications can impact older patients as it may be different than the younger patient. It is vital to have one physician giving consideration to all the seniors needs; having the big picture could prevent medication errors and missed diagnosis/treatments.
This recent article from the New York Times succinctly articulates the risks of ‘polypharmacy’ for our elders: The Dangers of ‘Polypharmacy,’ the Ever-Mounting Pile of Pills
Geriatricians serve as the primary care physician (internal medicine) who has additional training to become certified in geriatrics. In addition to assessing medical needs, they will give consideration to their appearance, mobility, cognition and mood. They may also address difficult subjects like driving safety and end of life decision making.
Does everyone over 65 need a geriatrician? Not necessarily.
For those who have multiple or chronic diagnosis or experiencing an unexplained decline in health, working with a geriatrician is in your best interest.
Geriatricians are compassionate physicians who care about preserving dignity and independence as well as honoring family wishes. It may take some time to get an appointment so it’s best to do your research early. Here are some resources which will assist you in your research: