Nearly 8 in 10 of older adults in the U.S. have at least two chronic illnesses.
Coping with multiple health conditions can be challenging for older people and the family members helping to care for them.
A geriatrician, a doctor who specializes in treating older people, may be able to help make that health management task easier.
If you are dealing with the complex health needs of an aging parent, consider talking with them about this health care option.
What Does a Geriatrician Do?
A geriatrician has extensive knowledge of the aging process and how to diagnose, treat, and prevent common illnesses in the aging population.
This branch of medicine is especially known for its comprehensive, whole-person approach to health care. That means geriatricians deal with the medical, physical, and psychological health of those in their care.
They often involve other medical specialists, nurses, social workers, and family caregivers in developing customized health plans for each person’s needs.
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Reasons to See a Geriatric Specialist
It may be a good time to consult a geriatrician if your aging parent experiences one of these situations, according to AARP:
- They are taking several different medications.
- They are having frequent or unusual episodes of memory loss.
- They have had falls or difficulty walking.
- They are being admitted to the hospital for surgery or other care.
Let’s look at why these experiences are so important to an aging person’s health and how a geriatrician might address them.
The more medicines your aging parent takes, the higher the risk of problems resulting from the way the drugs interact. More than 66% of older people are taking three or more prescription drugs in any given month, the American Geriatrics Society reports.
A geriatrician can review a list of prescription drugs, nonprescription medications, and dietary supplements to ensure the combination won’t cause harm.
In some cases, memory problems may signal a need to examine your aging parent’s cognitive health. That’s a term that refers to how well they are able to think, reason, and, yes, remember things.
Serious issues like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease may be the first fears that come to mind. Some occasional forgetfulness may not be enough reason to worry about those. But the expertise of a geriatrician can help to diagnoseY potential problems early.
Risk of Injury
Pay attention if your loved one is having trouble walking, standing, or keeping their balance. Take special note if they’ve had a fall or two.
Falls are the leading cause of injury and death in the U.S for people ages 65 and older. Someone in this age group falls every second of every day. One in five falls results in serious injury.
A geriatrician can perform gait and balance tests, as well as prescribe exercises to strengthen those areas. For more extensive fall prevention measures, he or she can connect your parent with a physical therapist.
A huge factor in the wellness of anyone receiving inpatient hospital care is what happens when they return home.
Hospitals use discharge plans to lay out the steps for doctors, nurses, family caregivers, and care recipients to take during the transition.
Having a geriatrician on the discharge team can improve health outcomes following a stay in the hospital. The specialist can make sure there is adequate attention to preventing falls, readmissions, and other common posthospitalization risks for older adults.
How to Start the Conversation
Suggesting a change in your aging parent’s usual healthcare routine can be a delicate matter.
Try to imagine how you would feel in their place. Already overwhelmed by a long list of health issues and care providers, they may be fearful of yet another confusing layer.
They may want the doctor who’s been treating them and referring them to specialists for years to continue managing their care.
Reassure them that a geriatrician won’t be replacing the doctors they know and trust but partnering with them. And let them know that as their family caregiver, you’ll also be part of the team dedicated to their health and wellbeing.
UPMC geriatric medicine seeks to enhance the lives of older adults through clinical care and research. We are nationally recognized for our expertise; our multidisciplinary team specializes in care for seniors. We diagnose and treat a wide variety of conditions affecting seniors, including medical, physical, cognitive, psychological, and social. Our hope is to provide the best care in people’s later years. We can help on an inpatient or outpatient basis, for short-term or long-term conditions.