What Are Geriatric Doctors?

Reviewed by  
Caregiving 101General Aging

A geriatric doctor or geriatrician is a physician who has the same training as regular primary care doctors, with one to five years extra of specialized geriatric education and training. Geriatric doctors treat the complex medical needs of older patients.

As a caregiver, you may wonder whether this geriatric care is right for your loved one. Although the answer to that question could seem obvious, there are several factors to consider. There is a nationwide shortage of geriatric physicians, and if there is one in your community, their practice might be full.  

The second consideration is what your loved one wants. Many older adults have spent years with the same doctor, and whether that person is meeting their needs or not, they are reluctant to change healthcare providers. Just because a primary care physician is not a geriatric specialist doesn’t mean they aren’t a good doctor.

 

Why Choose a Geriatric Physician?

 

To practice geriatric medicine, a Geriatrician completes four years of medical school and then an additional three to five years of a full-time residency program in geriatrics. Some geriatricians have a board certification in geriatrics, but it is not a requirement. They can be primary care providers, internists or family practice doctors. Most older adults do not see a primary care provider in addition to a geriatric physician.   

Older adults suffer from a variety of medical conditions that require geriatric expertise. Let’s look at the benefits of choosing a geriatric physician.

  • Geriatric physicians treat chronic health issues that affect older people such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, incontinence, fall risk, depression, and others.
  • Geriatric physicians coordinate care plans with other specialists to treat specific medical issues and conditions.
  • Geriatric physicians in general take a more holistic approach to patient care. They understand the value of treating the whole person, including assessing the home environment, social connections, family members’ support, and functional ability.
  • Geriatric physicians often have a team in their clinic, including social workers and nurse case managers to help patients transition from hospital to rehab or arrange for home health and other services.
  • Geriatric physicians also understand the value of palliative and hospice care and can educate families on when and how to begin either of these services.
  • Geriatric physicians can evaluate medications, their side effects and offer alternatives.
  • Geriatric physicians understand the high risk of falls and will evaluate and treat osteoporosis, a common condition for older adults, both male and female.

 

When to Consider a Geriatric Physician

 

As a family caregiver, you may not feel that your loved one’s current physician is meeting all of their needs. It is better to consider a geriatric physician as soon as you can in case you need to get on a waiting list. Even older adults in very good health often choose a geriatric physician. Other triggers to look for in your loved one:

  • You have concerns about the number of medications your loved one is on
  • Your loved one has been falling and you don’t know why
  • You have noticed that your loved one’s memory has become worse
  • You are worried about a general overall decline in functioning and ability to manage independently
  • You don’t think your loved one shouldn’t be driving
  • Managing multiple medical problems has become challenging

 

How to Find a Geriatric Physician

 

There are several ways to search for Geriatric Physician, and if you have more than one choice, consider location and accessibility. Here are some ways to find a geriatric physician:

  • Check with your local hospital to see if they have an affiliate geriatric clinic that provides senior care.
  • Do an online search of geriatric physicians in your area
  • Talk with other older adults you know to find out who they go to and like
  • If you have a good relationship with your loved one’s current physician, ask for a referral to a geriatric specialist
  • If your loved one is in assisted living or a nursing home, talk with the assisted living nurse or director about geriatric physicians they work with.

 

Paying for a Geriatric Physician

 

A geriatric physician like most primary care, family medicine, and internal medicine doctors accepts Medicare reimbursement for their services. If you have traditional Medicare with a secondary, you can go to any geriatric doctor who accepts Medicare and most costs will be covered. 

If you have a Medicare Advantage plan check with your plan and provider to ensure that they are in-network. Also, ask about any expected co-pays.

 

What to Expect at a Geriatric Appointment

 

A geriatric appointment could be very different from what you have experienced with a primary care physician. Typically, the visit will be a much longer consultation and may require additional paperwork before the appointment. In general, you can expect the following at your first appointment:

  • A complete history and physical
  • A review of all of your medications
  • A cognitive impairment screening to determine whether additional testing is needed to evaluate dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
  • A depression screening
  • A fall risk evaluation
  • An assessment of home accessibility
  • Questions related to your functional ability. For example, do you need help bathing, getting dressed, or going to the toilet?
  • An evaluation of family support
  • A more patient-oriented approach to healthy aging, including well-being, wellness and health goals as your loved one ages
  • Referrals to any specialists for specific consultations such as cardiology, neurology or nephrology. 

 

Caregiving and a Geriatric Physician

 

Having a geriatric physician to guide your loved one through the aging process can give you much-needed support and peace of mind as a caregiver. Take your time in searching for a geriatric doctor that has the skill and personality to connect with you and the person you care for, thus improving both their quality of life, and yours.

 

Amanda Lambert

A Nationally Certified Care Manager and a member of The Aging Life Care Association, with 25+ years of experience working with elders.