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Savvy Senior: When to see a geriatrician

Jim Miller: Just as a pediatrician specializes in caring for children, a geriatrician is trained to provide care for seniors, usually over age 65.
By Jim Miller, For The Oklahoman Published: June 23, 2014
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DEAR SAVVY SENIOR: What kinds of health problems do geriatricians treat? My mother, who’s 80, takes several different medications for various health problems, but she hasn’t been feeling herself lately. I’m wondering if she would benefit by seeing a geriatrician in place of her regular family doctor.

— Inquiring Daughter

DEAR INQUIRING: If your mom is dealing with a variety of health problems and is taking multiple medications, a visit to a geriatrician may be just the antidote to help get her back on track. Here’s a breakdown of the different types of health conditions geriatricians treat and some tips to help you locate one in your area.

Geriatric doctors

For starters, it’s important to know that geriatricians are family practice or internal medicine physicians that have had additional specialized training to manage the unique and, oftentimes, multiple health concerns of older adults. Just as a pediatrician specializes in caring for children, a geriatrician is trained to provide care for seniors, usually over age 65.

While most doctors, and even general practitioners, are trained to focus on a person’s particular illness or disease, geriatricians are trained to look at all aspects that can affect elderly patients — not just the physical symptoms. They also often work with a team of other health care professionals such as geriatric-trained nurses, rehabilitation therapists, nutritionists, social workers and psychiatrists to provide care. And, they will coordinate treatments among a patient’s specialists.

Patients who can benefit from seeing a geriatrician are elderly seniors with multiple health and age-related problems such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, confusion and memory problems, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, hypertension, depression, respiratory problems, osteoporosis, arthritis, chronic pain, mobility issues, incontinence, vision and hearing impairment, and trouble with balance and falls.

Geriatricians also are particularly adept at tackling medication problems. Because many seniors, like your mom, take multiple medications at the same time for various health conditions, and because aging bodies often absorb and metabolize drugs differently than younger adults, unique side effects and drug interactions are not uncommon. A geriatrician will evaluate and monitor you mom’s medications to be sure they are not affecting her in a harmful way.

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