“Something to do with old people.” This sums up what most people can tell you if you ask them to explain geriatrics. According to the American Geriatrics Society, the definition is simple. It’s a medical specialty focused on the high quality, person-centered care we all need when we age.
Think about it this way. Our children benefit from healthcare that’s focused on what growing bodies and minds need, so we make sure they see a pediatrician. Shouldn’t we apply that same thought process to older adults?
What’s a Geriatrician?
That’s the name for geriatrics doctors. They are medical professionals who specialize in the care of adults who are 65 and older. Most are doctors of internal or family medicine, and the only difference is that they’ve undergone an extra one to two years of training to understand and treat conditions most commonly found in older adults, such as mobility issues, osteoporosis, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease.
A geriatrician also has deeper experience and knowledge about helping people who have multiple chronic health conditions caused by aging. They understand how an older body can respond to different medications and treatments.
A standard internal or family medicine doctor usually has patients who are between the ages of 30 to 60 years old. Their range of experience tends to be based on treating people at these ages. If they’re asked to care for an older adult, they may not have the depth of experience to help them understand how standard medical treatment for younger adults might impact an older patient.
Should All Older Adults See a Geriatrician?
According to this US News & World report, there are only about 7,500 certified geriatricians in the United States. Research shows that about 30% of people over the age of 65 would benefit from the specialized care of a geriatrician. There’s a growing demand for this special doctor, but there definitely are not enough. This demand is forecasted to increase 45% by 2025.
So, should you worry if you are or care for an older adult who’s not seeing a geriatrician? The general consensus is that the existing relationship you have with an internal or family medicine doctor is sensible to maintain as long as this medical professional is confident that they have the experience to treat the specific medical conditions of an older adult.
A doctor’s priority is to make sure that patients under their care are getting the best possible treatment and advice. Often, they’re the ones who will make the recommendation that an older adult under their care seek out the specialized attention of a geriatrician.