The word Geriatrics is used interchangeably with Geriatric medicine. It refers to the medical care given to the elderly adults. Its main purpose is to promote the health of the elderly by preventing and treating diseases in the elderly while managing disabilities among them as a result of these diseases. The elderly adults are usually from 65 years and above, although 60 years is acceptable in some climes. The doctor that provides care for these seniors is called a Geriatric doctor or a Geriatrician.
A geriatrician is a primary care doctor, (internal or family medicine physician) who also has special expertise in geriatrics. They usually undergo one to two years extra of specialized geriatric education and training and are usually board certified. In addition to their special knowledge of health and well-being of the aging body, geriatricians are known for collaborating with interdisciplinary teams including nurses, pharmacists, physician assistants, social workers, and many others who work together to coordinate complex care for older adults and caregivers.
Why do we need Geriatricians?
The world is aging much faster compared to in the past. The population of the older population is greatly increasing. Between 2015 and 2050, the proportion of the world’s population over 60 years will nearly double from 12% to 22%, and will almost outnumber the under-five children population.
Despite this high number of older people, the number of Geriatricians do not seem to be increasing.There are currently 7,293 certified geriatricians in the U.S. It is estimated that to adequately treat all the patients who would benefit most from seeing them, it would take about 20,000 of them.
This may be due to the fact that Geriatricians are not as well paid as the other specialties.
What does a geriatric doctor do?
A Geriatrician or Geriatric doctor has an interesting job with a wide scope. It basically involves providing continuous, comprehensive, patient-centred care for the older people. These older people often have more than one medical condition and are taking multiple drugs. They also respond to certain treatments and drugs in different ways. Geriatricians are trained to be mindful of these special issues in the aging body while providing care for them.
The Geriatrician takes more time in the consultation of the elderly because it is important to gain a complete and balanced perspective of the individual being consulted. This usually makes for better patient satisfaction among the elderly.
There are a wide array of issues the geriatrician deals with in the elderly, the common ones include: dementia, Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, incontinence issues, osteoarthritis, balance problems, hearing and vision loss, frailty, heart failure, diabetes, insomnia, depression, and other psychosocial issues.
The Geriatric doctor also acts as a focal person to integrate the care of the elderly person or provide coordination for the different specialists who might be involved in the care of the different diseases of the elderly as well as determining priority in treating the diseases.
They also offer health promotion services which will foster healthy aging and well-being of the older individuals. These include health eating habits, exercise programs, and wellness programs.
The Geriatrician is also trained to handle palliative care for dying individuals and to be able to offer holistic end of life care for these individuals.
Where do Geriatricians work?
The Geriatric doctor works in a variety of settings, these could be community or hospital based. They include: outpatient departments, the emergency room, medical assessment units, acute care wards (like coronary care, high dependence units, acute stroke care), rehabilitation wards, intermediate and long term care wards, day-care centres, elderly care homes, and hospices.
How to be a Geriatric doctor
To be a Geriatric doctor, you need to first attend an accredited medical school to become a doctor. Then you will choose your interest in primary care, either internal medicine, family medicine, or psychiatry and undergo residency and become board- certified in your chosen specialty. You will then need some extra training in Geriatricians and then be able to pass the Geriatric Medicine Certification Examination.