Should I Have a Geriatrician for my Doctor?

Should I have a geriatrician for my doctor?

By Jennifer T. Arnouville, Medical Clinic of North Texas

As a geriatrician, one common question I receive from seniors is whether they should be seeing a one. As with most worthwhile questions, there is no single answer to this. However, I do have some general suggestions when I receive this question.

I will first explain exactly what a geriatrician is, and what a geriatrician may do differently. A geriatrician is a physician trained in internal or family medicine, who opts to do an extra one or two-year fellowship in geriatric medicine. This extra training focuses on special issues that seniors often face, commonly referred to as the geriatric syndromes. Geriatric syndromes include those problems which plague seniors more than other age groups: dementia, delirium, and falls.  Geriatricians are taught to pay special attention to practical issues, such as how their patients are functioning in their living environment, and what their social support system is like.   Geriatricians can also be helpful with narrowing down medication lists, and advising on medications that may be more risky for older individuals to take.

Yet, not every older patient needs a geriatrician. Many primary care physicians take excellent care of their older patients. When a patient has a trusting and productive relationship with their doctor, they should definitely continue with that doctor. Unfortunately, I meet many seniors who feel dissatisfied with their current care, and who could benefit from seeing a geriatrician. Most of these patients have at least one of the following complaints:

“My doctor only allows one problem per visit.”

“My doctor only schedules 15-minute appointments.”

“I take too many medications.”

“I’ve had a lot of problems with medication side effects.”

If you often say one or more of these, then you may benefit from having a geriatrician as your physician. However, the unfortunate truth is there are very few geriatricians to take care of the growing number of seniors. Alternatively, you may want to have your regular doctor refer you for a geriatric consultation. In this case, a geriatrician can have a single appointment with you, and make helpful suggestions for you and your doctor to work on together.