Geriatricians are primary care doctors who have additional training in treating older adults, especially those 65 and up. People in that age range often have multiple or complex health matters and need specialized care. Geriatric doctors have the training and experience needed to address these issues.
Geriatricians can be a primary care doctor, a consultant, or work as part of a team of doctors and caretakers for older adults. They have the same training as regular primary care doctors, with usually one to two years extra of specialized geriatric education and training.
What Does a Geriatrician Do?
Specifically, they concentrate on the following areas that tend to affect older adults in greater numbers:
- Balance Issues
- Heart Disease
Geriatricians also pay more attention to your overall quality of life and goals. Their consultations usually take longer because they take the time and care to address any and all issues you may have. They’ll also likely collect more information, like lifestyle, family, and other community-related questions to get a fuller picture of your life.
Recently, geriatricians categorized five primary areas on how to structure care for older adults. They are:
- Mobility: Identify issues of mobility and understand causes for falls and how to prevent them.
- Medication: Manage medicinal intake, especially when the person is taking multiple medications.
- Mind: Understand what happens to the mind with regards to cognitive, affective, and behavioral health.
- Multicomplexity: Manage complex or chronic illnesses that affect older adults.
- Matters Most: Help patients deal with palliative and end-of-life care.
With this framework, geriatric doctors can categorize the issues affecting their patients. This approach allows geriatricians to take advantage of evidence-based, point-of-care tools and resources that they can integrate into their practice to improve care for older adults.
Education and Training
Geriatricians go through the same education and training as primary care doctors before specializing in geriatric care. Depending on their program, they can spend anywhere between seven and 15 years before being able to practice medicine on their own. The stages of becoming a geriatric doctor are:
Coursework varies across programs, but in general medical school takes about four years to complete. Students learn about science, the latest innovations in treatments and diagnosis, problem-solving, prevention and care, communication skills, and medical ethics.
Choosing a focus
During the last year of medical school, students decide which type of medicine they will practice based on personal interests, clinical experiences, and other factors. For medical students interested in a career in geriatrics, they will apply for a residency program in this field.
During graduate medical education (GME), resident doctors receive supervised, hands-on training in programs accredited by the Accreditation Council on Graduate Medical Education. Residents train alongside established doctors in their field and also get to work with practicing geriatricians.
Before being able to practice medicine, a doctor needs to get a state license. Geriatricians also need to become board certified in their chosen specialty and pass the Geriatric Medicine Certification Examination.
Reasons to See a Geriatrician
There’s no set age to see a geriatrician. Talk to your primary care provider if you think you should see one, especially if you:
- Have multiple or complex medical conditions
- Manage multiple medications
- Are starting to feel symptoms of diseases associated with aging like dementia, incontinence, or osteoporosis