Geriatrics – a Growing Need for a Growing Population

December 26, 2017

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Geriatrics, or medical gerontology, is a steadily growing medical field, a distinct specialty that focuses on providing health care to the elderly, and it is expected to further grow in the near future. As major demographic shifts are taking place, with tremendous numbers of baby boomers retiring every day, the need for specialized care is increasing significantly.

Another factor that necessitates greater attention to the needs of older people and their health is the fact that life expectancy is on the rise, especially in developed countries, and is expected to increase further.

Geriatric care vs. primary care?

What are the reasons behind the need for specifically geriatric care? Can a primary care practitioner deal with the issues that arise in the elderly population? To a certain extent, a primary care physician has the skills and the knowledge to diagnose and treat most of the conditions. But a doctor who specializes in this particular segment will have a far deeper understanding and experience in treating the combinations of disorders that are typical of the old age. A trained geriatrician has undergone 1 to 2 years of specialized training in addition to the regular residency program, and is able to offer the following benefits of added qualification:

  • Focuses on the unique needs of the older person;
  • Provides a more sensitive approach to the patient;
  • Clearly distinguishes between normal aging processes and disorders;
  • Is aware of age-specific complications of common diseases;
  • Manages multiple symptoms and medications;
  • Concentrates on the “geriatric giants”, the health issues most commonly encountered in the old age, i.e.:

– Vision loss
– Hearing loss
– Lack of mobility
– Psychological impairments
– Incontinence


An integrated approach is crucial when, as is the case with many older adults, health issues become chronic and numerous. While it may seem that adding another doctor to an already long list of specialists is unnecessary, it is the geriatrician who may be able to provide you with a comprehensive view of your health at an older age, and resolve some general issues that may have been beyond the scope of the cardiologist, the ophthalmologist and the rheumatologist.

As many as 92% of senior citizens in the US have at least chronic condition, while 77% suffer from two and more such conditions. The most common disorders include

    • Heart disease
    • Stroke
    • Cancer
    • Diabetes
    • Osteoporosis
    • Arthritis
    • Depression
    • Dementia (most common form – Alzheimer’s disease)
    • Sensory impairments

    Tackling the issue of medication management is another priority, given the immense amount of prescription medications that an average US senior citizen takes per day. Over-medication is common, and drug interaction has to be taken into thorough consideration.

    A special mention has to be given to mental health disorders that set in with age. Memory, cognition functions and dementia-related disorders demand attention from an experienced geriatric psychologist or psychiatrist, since the needs of older adults with these particular conditions differ significantly from those of a more active population with other psychological and psychiatric issues.

    When is the right time?

    There is no specific age when a person is best transferred under the care of a geriatrician. One 70-year-old may be running marathons, while another may be plagued with dementia and diabetes. The more serious and age-specific the health concerns are, the more reason to turn to a geriatric specialist. The doctor who targets your specific needs is always a more efficient option, and a geriatric specialist is the best choice if you’d like to extend the period of happy, healthy, independent living. Geriatricians are also the ones to turn to for a proper assessment of the need for home care services or nursing/assisted living facilities.

    Overall, an experienced geriatrician may significantly increase an older patient’s quality of life, so it’s worth switching to a geriatric specialist when you feel that the time is right.

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