Is a member of your family advanced in years and needs additional care? Concerned about their health, mobility, mental health, amount of medication they are taking – or just general ability to cope?
If you answer ‘yes’ to any of the following questions, they may need to see a geriatric specialist:
- Does your loved one have many medical conditions and take multiple medications?
- Do you find that treatment for one of their conditions negatively affects another?
- Are they becoming frailer or less able to function?
- Do they have a disease associated with aging, such as dementia, osteoporosis, or incontinence?
Their doctor should be your first port of call. However, following a discussion, they may refer your loved one to a geriatric specialist.
Geriatricians specialize in treating older adults. They’re a form of a geriatric doctor with a focus on health promotion, as well as prevention and diagnosis of diseases common among the geriatric community.
A geriatric specialist will consider the whole person when diagnosing and treating syndromes such as:
But their area of expertise is much more extensive than that. A geriatric doctor will also develop care plans that meet your loved one’s specialized health care needs. They will coordinate care and communicate with you and other family members, so everyone is informed about the best way forward.
Will They Consider My Geriatric Loved One’s Needs?
Absolutely. Geriatric medicine is concerned with a patient-centered, holistic approach to ensure that older adults maintain quality of life, independence, and improvements in health. You may have experienced in your life what happens when small adjustments to your health vastly improve your well-being. With geriatric doctor care, your loved one will benefit from the positive benefits of personalized care.
Geriatric specialists work in teams, comprised of professionals of many medical disciplines. Members of these teams will include:
- Social Workers
- Occupational Therapists
- Physical Therapists
Where Can I Find a Geriatric Specialist?
In the United States, you can find them in academic medical centers and community hospitals, as well as private clinics and rural health centers. You may also be able to see one at home or in a long-term care facility, either as a consultant or primary care physician.
What Happens at the First Meeting?
A geriatric doctor will look at your loved one’s ability to carry out activities for daily living. In collaboration with the team, the geriatric specialist will coordinate your overall care with the entire team, as well as your family. They will help you make the best treatment choices.
What Questions Should I Ask?
Make sure you ask the geriatric doctor the following questions at your first meeting:
- Have they received specialized training working with older adults?
- Do they work with an academic medical center that offers patients the latest advances in medical care?
- Do they accept your form of insurance?
- Who can you speak to after hours if there’s an emergency?
- Do they carry out home visits?
- How do they communicate with other specialists, such as cardiologists and neurologists?
- What is their preferred way of communicating with you? Email, phone, face to face?
Most importantly, it’s vital to get a sense of whether the geriatric specialist has the same health goals as you for your loved one, bearing in mind that these will change over time. Remember to check what other programs they offer, such as fall-prevention education and exercise classes.
How Can a Geriatric Specialist Help Me?
If your loved one is taking multiple medications to manage different conditions, the geriatric doctor will assess which drugs they need to prioritize, and which ones they can stop taking. This is to avoid any undesirable side effects. They may suggest other measures to help you boost your health and well-being, as well as give you advice on managing a chronic health condition.
Can I See a Geriatric Specialist in the Hospital?
Yes. Research shows that if a person receives care from a geriatric doctor in the hospital, they are more likely to return straight home after discharge instead of spending time in a rehabilitation center or nursing home.
What Happens Next?
Once you discuss with the geriatric specialist at your meeting, they will assess your loved one’s mental and physical function. Then, they will create a specialized treatment plan for their care. They will be on the lookout for signs of mild impairment, such as:
- Forgetfulness and memory loss
- Losing personal items
- Difficulty managing finances
- Confusion when driving
- Trouble managing medications
- Poor concentration
If your loved one present with moderate impairment, the geriatric specialist will be looking for the following symptoms:
- Difficulty holding urine
- Increased forgetfulness and memory loss
- Unable to find or use the correct words
- Trouble doing challenging math
- Withdrawal from social situations
If they have difficulty with daily routines, then they may have a moderately severe impairment, such as:
- Increased memory loss
- Confusion about previous events
- The trouble with less challenging math
- Need help choosing the appropriate clothes
The geriatric doctor may diagnose your loved one with severe impairment if they are having difficulty with:
- Getting dressed
- Need assistance going to the restroom
- Wandering and becoming lost
- Unable to remember names of loved ones or carers
- Disturbed sleep
- Changes in personality such as paranoia or hallucinations
And the doctor may determine they have very severe impairment if they need constant care due to the following:
- Losing language skills
- Unaware of surroundings
- Need assistance when eating
- Unable to control urination
- Loss of muscle control to smile, walk, swallow, sit or walk without support
What Will Be the Outcome?
After assessing your needs, the geriatric specialist will recommend the best options to help your loved one maintain their health, well-being, and overall quality of life. They may refer your loved one to home care services, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, or hospice as appropriate.
With their specialized training, geriatric doctors are best-placed to recommend the most suitable health care option for your circumstances.