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Geriatric Doctor: What They Do and How They Can Help Your Loved One

Kiera Powell, R.N.

Verified by Kiera Powell, R.N. and written by Nate Birt on Sat Dec 17 2022.

Medically Verified

If you care for a loved one 65 or older, you’ve probably spent some time at doctor’s appointments. You might be pleased with the quality of care they receive. But, in other cases, you might wonder whether a doctor specializing in geriatrics or older adults might be a better fit. You’ll want to consider several factors when evaluating if a geriatric doctor can help your loved one. Let’s explore some of those criteria and look at ways to make the decision easier, contributing to a high quality of life for your loved one.

If you care for a loved one 65 or older, you’ve probably spent some time at doctor’s appointments. You might be pleased with the quality of care they receive. But, in other cases, you might wonder whether a doctor specializing in geriatrics or older adults might be a better fit. You’ll want to consider several factors when evaluating if a geriatric doctor can help your loved one. Let’s explore some of those criteria and look at ways to make the decision easier, contributing to a high quality of life for your loved one. 

What is a geriatric doctor? 

 Doctors who are specially trained to provide care for people 65 and older are called geriatric doctors or geriatricians. Just as a pediatrician cares for young people, a geriatric doctor has specialized knowledge about seniors and their health care. In addition, qualified geriatric doctors often have special training and might hold certification that gives them the ability to provide these services. Geriatricians generally practice internal medicine or family medicine. 

Knowing there are other good doctors with significant experience helping seniors is important. Not all doctors with experience helping older patients are geriatric doctors. Ask your loved one’s primary care physician or other medical offices to understand the options available in your area. 

How does a geriatric doctor differ from a general primary care doctor? 

Geriatricians specifically cater to the older population and often help patients whose bodies are aging. Their patients commonly have several chronic health conditions. They might take multiple medications. 

Because of their expertise, a geriatric doctor will be interested in your loved one’s complete medical picture. They will want to understand any symptoms they are experiencing and their medical history, including past surgeries, medications, or any challenges they’ve faced. They will also seek clarity on your loved one’s health goals and vision for a high quality of life. These topics enable a geriatric doctor to provide the best possible care.

When might my loved one want to switch to a geriatric doctor? 

Caregivers work with their loved ones to switch to a geriatric doctor for several reasons. In some cases, a loved one needs additional medical expertise that a primary care physician lacks. In other situations, patients switch to a geriatrician because they face multiple medical conditions. Although an internal medicine doctor can generally provide excellent care, a geriatric doctor might be in the best position to manage numerous medical issues. Geriatricians can also dig deeper into symptoms your loved one might be experiencing and can connect the dots and help you and your loved one identify medical conditions and strategies for treatment that other doctors might not consider. 

Sometimes, your loved one’s primary care doctor might quickly prescribe several different types of medication. You may have questions about whether all those drugs are necessary or whether they might have unintended consequences when taken simultaneously. In cases like this, a geriatric doctor can study the medications your loved one is taking and advise whether prescriptions serve your loved one well. 

What are some benefits of working with a geriatric doctor? 

There can be several benefits to working with a geriatric doctor. Among them include:

  • Bedside manner: Doctors trained in serving seniors are likelier to relate to their patients, build strong relationships, and ask the right questions to improve your loved one’s well-being. Although this factor doesn’t directly impact medical outcomes, it can make doctor’s visits more pleasant.

  • Expertise: A geriatric doctor has special training to understand and treat the health challenges that older patients face. This can provide peace of mind and clarity. 

  • Chronic conditions: As we age, it’s more likely that we’ll have multiple health conditions that need simultaneous treatment. A geriatric doctor can get your loved one’s full medical chart and help provide holistic treatment. This could include a review of medications to determine whether all of them are needed. In some cases, it might be possible to reduce or change medications.

  • Collaboration: If your loved one works with several doctors, a geriatrician doctor can be part of this larger medical team. They will get to know your loved one’s medical care team and contribute their insights and training where needed.

  • End-of-life support: If your loved one experiences Alzheimer’s, cancer, or another terminal illness, a geriatric doctor can help your family navigate them. During this process, they will work to ensure your loved one’s well-being and dignity at every step.

Can my loved one have a regular doctor and a geriatric doctor? 

Your loved one can benefit from multiple doctors, including a primary care physician and a geriatric doctor, or you may choose to only work with a geriatric doctor. However, geriatric specialists are less common than other types of medical knowledge. Thus, many seniors retain their existing doctor and visit a geriatric doctor when needed.

What kinds of information about my loved one should I share with a geriatric doctor? 

During a visit with a geriatric doctor, sharing details relevant to your loved one’s overall well-being and treatment is best. For example, this might include:

  • Your loved one’s health care goals and objectives, and any additional insights on how they define a high quality of life

  • Medications your loved one takes and preferred pharmacy information

  • Any new or concerning symptoms your loved one has experienced in the past three to six months 

  • Recent falls or accidents 

  • Names and contact information for any other doctors or medical practitioners who help your loved one

  • An overview of the individuals or group of people (including you) who provide regular care to your loved one

You can expect a geriatric doctor to have additional questions. However, the above list provides a good foundation for an initial office visit. 

Where can I find a geriatric doctor and other helpful information on this topic? 

You can find a search tool for locating a geriatric doctor online. To search for local professionals near your loved one, visit HealthinAging.org’s Search For A Geriatrics Healthcare Professional page.

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Nate Birt
Nate Birt

Nate Birt is the founder of Silver Maple Strategies, a consulting company that provides premium encouragement and communications solutions to help social purpose leaders make a lasting impact in harmony with their personal values. A University of Missouri journalism graduate, author and public speaker, Nate and his wife, Julie, live with their four children on a small farm in northeastern Missouri.