We know children have different health care needs than adults. That’s why most parents choose a pediatrician for their child’s health care needs. Similarly, through adulthood, it’s only natural that your health care needs change, too. At some point, it may be helpful to seek care from a geriatrician.
What is a geriatrician?
Put simply, geriatricians are primary care doctors who have additional specialized training in treating older adults. They help older patients with multiple or complex health problems, coordinate care and guide the patient through treatment choices. Geriatricians are typically part of a treatment team, along with other specialists or doctors.
"It may help to think of geriatricians as ‘specialists’ in aging," says Dr. Tim Gutshall, chief medical officer at Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield. “People are living longer than ever, and we are learning so much about the human body and mind as they age. Geriatricians use this expertise to help their patients have a better quality of life.”
Why would I need a geriatrician?
Naturally, your body is different when you’re 30 than it is at age 70. You may face different health conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer or memory loss. That’s where a geriatrician can play an important role in your health. They understand the complexity of the human body, how it changes with time, how multiple medical problems can interact, and just as important, how these issues can affect your quality of life. For older adults, geriatric care can be a game changer.
When should I start seeing a geriatrician?
Geriatricians are often sought out when there are issues leading to a loss of independence, especially a cognitive decline.
“There is no need to seek care from a geriatrician simply because you are 65 or older,” says Gutshall. “In fact, there is a lot of value in having a trusted relationship with a personal doctor who you have built a relationship with over time, who knows your medical history and is well-trained in internal medicine."
He adds, “If you are concerned your doctor isn’t paying enough attention to your health issues, overprescribes medication, or isn’t considering your quality of life in treatment recommendations, it may be time to seek the care of a geriatrician.”
When a geriatrician may help
Here are a few additional reasons to seek care from a geriatrician, and how this type of care can help you:
You are taking multiple medications
The more medications you are taking, the more likely you will have side effects or drug interactions. A geriatrician can review your medications and prioritize which drugs are necessary and which can be skipped.
You are suffering from multiple medical conditions
The treatment for one medical condition can negatively affect another. For example, if you have Parkinson’s disease and diabetes, a geriatrician will understand how these conditions interact, and how to coordinate the right treatment.
You are having trouble with your memory
A geriatrician can screen you for mild cognitive impairment (MCI) that can lead to problems like dementia or depression.
You are less mobile
Falls are the leading cause of injuries and death External Site among adults 65 and over. A geriatrician can help lower your risk with assessments, physical therapy, exercises or occupational therapy.
How can I find a geriatrician?
If you are enrolled in Medicare, the easiest way to find a Medicare-participating geriatrician in your area is to use the Medicare.gov provider directory External Site. Provide your location, and under “provider type,” choose “Doctors & clinicians.” Under name and keyword, choose “Geriatric medicine.”
You may not be able to find a geriatrician in your area, especially if you live in a rural community. The next best thing is to find an internal medicine doctor who has experience with caring for older adults.
What type of preventive care should I get when I’m older?
It’s always better to take care of a health condition early, before it becomes more serious. That’s why preventive care is so important. Plus, many times preventive services are covered at no cost to you.
As you age, talk to your personal doctor regularly about the need for:
- A colorectal cancer screening (colonoscopy) and how often you should be screened
- Vaccines or immunizations for illnesses like COVID-19, shingles, flu or pneumonia
- An osteoporosis screening to check out your bone density
- Potential issues with your hearing and vision
- Other tests based on specific health concerns and medications
If you are covered by Medicare, you have a full-range of preventive services. For detailed information visit CMS.gov External Site.
If you have non-Medicare health coverage, see what preventive services are covered by a Wellmark health insurance plan, check out Wellmark's ACA Preventive Services list Opens PDF. Before you go to your doctor, make a plan to get the most from your visit and get the personalized care you need.
- DailyCaring.com — WHAT DOES A GERIATRIC DOCTOR DO? HOW SENIORS CAN BENEFIT FROM A SPECIALIST External Site
- AARP.org — When It’s Time to See a Geriatrician External Site
- Health.ClevelandClinic.org — What is a Geriatrician? Should I Be Seeing One? External Site
- Anthem.com — Post-Menopausal? Why You Still Need an OB-GYN External Site
- HopkinsMedicine.org — Specialists in Aging: Do You Need a Geriatrician? External Site