Aging comes with many unwanted side effects like wrinkles, grey hair, and a unique set of health problems. These commonly include cognitive decline, increased risk of falling, heart conditions, and a host of chronic diseases. Just as children go to a pediatrician, the elderly visit a geriatrician to maintain good health and wellbeing.
Geriatricians are specialist doctors who care for aging adults, usually with complicated medical problems. Their priority is to maintain their elderly patients’ comfort, ability to function, and quality of life. To achieve this goal, geriatric doctors usually work with GPs, social workers, nutritionists, caregivers, nurses, family members, therapists, and community-based service providers.
So, when do you need to see a geriatric specialist? To answer that question, it helps to understand what geriatric doctors do, what particular conditions they can treat, and what happens when a patient consults with them.
What Does a Geriatric Doctor Treat?
Geriatric doctors mainly help elderly patients live healthier and more comfortable lives. They assist patients in dealing with common problems that come with aging, from incontinence and dementia to injuries from a fall and other medical issues.
Like most patients, the elderly may want to go to a geriatric doctor if they feel frail and need support beyond what their caregivers can provide for them. They may also consult the specialist if they suffer from multiple health problems demanding complex medications and care.
Geriatric doctors also help aging patients who are undergoing treatment for multiple health problems. They are trained to assess their patients’ condition as a whole. They know how to evaluate side effects and the negative impact of taking several drugs at once. Geriatricians can help patients decide which medication to prioritize and which ones to skip to prevent any adverse effects on their multiple health problems. Geriatricians prioritize their patient’s well-being and ability to function better instead of just finding medication for every medical condition.
As the elderly’s primary physicians, they diagnose and treat a wide range of conditions and diseases, analyze the relationship between brain and physical functions, and work with other specialists and family members to provide the best care possible. They also pay attention to their patient’s daily needs and activities.
What is Considered a Geriatric Patient?
A geriatric patient is an older adult with impaired overall function. While there is no set age, a geriatric patient is usually more than 60 years old and has a chronic medical problem (like type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and dementia), physical impairment, or cognitive impairment.
However, if you are already in your 60s, still healthy enough to walk a few miles daily, and do not have a complicated medication routine, you may not need a geriatric doctor.
What Age is Considered Geriatric in Humans?
The World Health Organization believes that most developed countries characterize old age as people aged 60 years and above. However, chronological age is not the only deciding factor on whether you should see a geriatric doctor or not.
A person may consult with a geriatrician if he/she experiences physical frailty, functional decline, osteoporosis, incontinence, dementia, multiple medications, and several chronic conditions. Your primary care doctor can help you determine the right time to see a geriatric doctor.
What Conditions Does a Geriatric Doctor Treat?
Geriatric doctors specialize in treating age-related problems, from fall-related injuries to dementia.
- Dementia. This condition often comes with memory loss that adversely impacts one’s day-to-day functions. This is diagnosed through a neuropsychological evaluation.
- Fall injuries. Balancing can become a problem in old age. The most common risk factors include vision problems, foot issues, weakness, vertigo, cognitive issues, chronic diseases, and environmental risks, such as steep steps, slippery floors, or poor lighting.
- Incontinence. Involuntary loss of urine is a common problem among older adults. It might be embarrassing to admit, but getting proper help can facilitate recovery through exercises, setting a urination schedule, assistive devices, and even medication or surgery.
- Sleep issues. Insomnia and similar problems can negatively affect the elderly’s quality of life and even increase the risk of falling. Geriatricians can identify the specific sleep problem and find the appropriate solution.
- Heart disease. Elderly patients often see geriatric doctors after a heart attack or stroke, especially if the condition made them physically frail with several medications.
- Depression. Studies have shown depression to be common among nursing home residents compared to those living in their communities. Geriatric patients may exhibit depression through physical symptoms, such as shortness of breath or dizziness, which experienced geriatricians watch out for.
- Malnutrition. This is often an underdiagnosed problem among the elderly, which leads to a weak immune system and weakened muscles. This could be due to dietary restrictions, forgetting to eat due to dementia, limited income, or depression.
- Oral health problems. Older adults often deal with gum disease, dry mouth, and even mouth cancer, on top of losing their natural teeth.
Other common problems troubling the elderly include impaired hearing or vision, osteoporosis, insomnia, cancer, osteoarthritis, diabetes, and frailty.
What Are Geriatric Problems?
Geriatric problems refer to conditions that mainly affect the elderly. According to American Geriatrics Society’s Health in Aging Foundation, geriatric issues usually have more than one cause and may involve various parts of the body. Some examples of these are mobility problems, incontinence, instability, and impaired memory or cognitive ability. Hearing loss and impaired vision are also common among older adults.
These geriatric problems often come hand-in-hand with difficulty in carrying out normal daily activities, such as bathing, dressing up, going to the bathroom, or eating. It is even more challenging for patients suffering from more than one geriatric condition.
What Can a Patient Expect When They See a Geriatrician for Their Regular Physical/Wellness Exam?
Consulting with a geriatric doctor often means a longer appointment. This is to give the elderly patient enough time to talk about their medical problems with the specialist. Geriatricians do this to provide preventive health care and manage their patients’ chronic medical conditions effectively.
Geriatricians also prepare themselves to answer their patient’s questions about different medical issues they are experiencing or are concerned they might encounter. They may also get questions about the patient’s medications.
As a patient, you should prepare questions about cholesterol, blood pressure, weight, hearing, vision, and mood. It would help if you also ask your geriatric doctor about your bone density and colonoscopy test results. Do not forget to follow up on your flu shot schedule as well.
During the wellness consultation, the doctor might also ask for a geriatric neuropsychological evaluation, especially if you show signs of dementia. This neuropsychological testing helps determine mild cognitive impairment and identify the specific type of dementia. It may also point out other neurological or psychiatric disorders. A neuropsychological evaluation often lasts two to three hours and tests the patient’s memory, processing speed, visual-spatial ability, attention, motor skills, language, and executive functioning.
Through neuropsychological testing, doctors can develop strategies to manage the disorder. It also monitors the disease’s progress and the effect of medications or other treatment targeted towards it.
If you are looking for psychological services near me, Persona Group can provide a comprehensive neuropsychological test for geriatric patients like you. Feel free to reach us at 800-314-7273 for any concerns or to schedule an initial consultation.
Asking the right questions can help both the doctor and the patient anticipate potential problems before they worsen and become too severe to treat. It also allows both parties to be proactive in looking for the necessary advanced support.