A geriatric specialist is a doctor who specializes in the health needs of the elderly. They may be internists or family doctors, and they may be board certified as geriatricians.
The American Geriatrics Society estimates that about one third of older adults need a geriatric specialist. If you’re considering seeing a geriatric specialist or arranging for an elderly relative to do so, the questions below can help you decide whether you need this type of specialist or not.
Are you over 75?
The particular health needs of people aged 75 and older may require specialized knowledge on the part of their physicians. However, this depends on the health profile of the individual.
Geriatric specialists look for signs of frailty, confusion, likelihood of falls, and other concerns specific to the elderly. It is possible for people in their 60s to have these concerns — and for people in their 80s not to experience those issues.
Whether it’s for yourself or for a relative, make an honest assessment. If you’re over 75, but you’re physically active and in good health, you might be fine with an internist or family medicine doctor.
Do you take a lot of medications?
One of the issues geriatric specialists work with is the use of multiple medications. Not only can multiple prescriptions have effects in combination which are different from their individual effects, but changes in liver and kidney function as a patient ages can change how the medications work.
If you or your loved one uses a number of different prescriptions, a geriatricist may be a good choice.
Are you frail?
When we talk about frailty or being frail, we’re referring to lessened strength and balance. People who are becoming frail may feel that they can’t get around as well as they used to or that they are less steady on their feet. They may move more slowly or lose weight (though people can be obese and frail at the same time). They may also experience mental confusion.
Frail adults are more likely to fall and at greater risk of hospitalization and even death. While some people see this kind of change as an expected part of aging, it can and should be treated.
Physical therapy, exercise, nutritional support, and help with vision and hearing problems may be part of treatment for frailty.
Are mental issues involved?
If you or the person you are caring for suffers from dementia, a geriatrician can be very helpful. Mental confusion and depression can also be aging-related problems with which a geriatric specialist may have experience.
There are no hard and fast rules for when it’s time to begin seeing a geriatric specialist — and there are very few geriatricists in Northwest Arkansas. An internal medicine doctor is a specialist in adult medicine, including geriatrics, and is also a good choice. For more information, contact the Fayetteville Diagnostic Clinic.