Also known as: Geriatric Physician

Last Updated: January 2, 2022

Written by the Open Caregiving Team. Editorial review by Joyce O. Murphy RN, MSN.

What is a geriatrician?

A geriatrician is a medical doctor who is devoted to serving the needs of older adults. They understand the challenges that aging can present and they honor the contributions each older person has made during their lives.

What kind of training do geriatricians have?

  • A geriatrician is typically certified in internal medicine or family practice.
  • Geriatricians are considered primary care physicians and have the same medical school training as other doctors.
  • They then go on to complete a medical fellowship in geriatrics at an accredited institution.

Why are geriatricians important?

As your loved one ages and changes occur, specialized medical care may be called for. Geriatricians are important because of the knowledge and skills they have about the aging process.

  • They know the cultural and family challenges you or your loved one faces.
  • They understand how medications interact and affect physical and mental well-being.

How can a geriatrician help?

  • The geriatrician takes the time to listen to your loved one’s health history and concerns.
  • They see the big picture about medications.
    • They know about side effects and interactions that can be harmful.
    • They help your loved one decide about medication changes that are safe for them.
  • Because geriatricians are primary care doctors, they coordinate care with your loved one’s other physicians.
    • They help you to decide which health conditions need the most attention.
    • They help assure your loved one’s wishes are followed.
    • They talk with the other doctors about any medication concerns.
  • They reassure your loved one about the natural parts of aging.

When do you need to see a geriatric doctor?

Geriatricians are skilled at caring for many health concerns and conditions that can occur as one advances in age. These are examples of when to seek the care of a geriatric doctor for your loved one:

  • They notice that your strength and balance are ‘off.’ They stumble more easily or have trouble lifting things.
  • They don’t sleep well. Plus, their elimination is sometimes upsetting because of leakage.
  • They’re experiencing changes in vision and hearing that interfere with conversations and reading.
  • They’re on a lot of medications and have recently heard about the concerns of “poly-pharmacy.”
  • They’re worried about arthritis and osteoporosis. Their aches have turned into downright pains that take the joy out of their favored activities.
  • They have a history of cancer, diabetes, or a heart condition. You wonder how best to manage this as your loved one ages.
  • Dementia and a foggy brain really concern them. They want to be independent as long as they can, though they’ve recently had trouble remembering to pay bills on time.

What is the difference between a gerontologist and a geriatrician?

These two specialties have distinct differences. They share a common goal: To learn more about aging so that older people can have good life quality.

A gerontologist is a social scientist who studies and researches broad factors that affect aging populations.

  • They study policy and public health as well as physiology and social science.
  • Gerontologists use the information they gather to develop policies and programs that help groups of older people.

A geriatrician is a medical doctor who is knowledgeable about aging.

  • This doctor is likely to use information the gerontologist gathers to help patients. An example is starting a community group to promote social activity.
  • This doctor focuses on the care of each person.

How to find a geriatrician near me?

There are about 7,000 geriatricians in the U.S.

How do I pick a geriatrician?

You want to pick the right geriatrician for your loved one, as you will work together for their well-being throughout the coming years. Consider these points as your loved one makes a decision:

  • Select a geriatrician who has the certifications noted above.
  • Geriatricians who work in major medical centers have access to the latest advances.
  • Does the geriatrician you like communicate in a way that works for your loved one? This might be in-person, on the phone, via email, or by video conference.
  • Does the practice accept your loved one’s insurance?
  • How are emergencies and after-hours needs managed?
  • Make note if the geriatrician has a health philosophy similar to that of your loved one.

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