Geriatrician Overview

A geriatric physician, also called a geriatrician, is a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease and disability in older adults. Geriatric physicians are primary care doctors who are specially trained in the aging process.

Geriatricians provide comprehensive medical care for people later in life. They are board certified, usually in either family medicine or internal medicine, and have received additional training and certification in geriatric medicine.

Geriatric physicians are concerned with health problems that frequently affect older adults, such as pain, falls, memory loss, incontinence (involuntary loss of urine), and medication side effects. Another important aspect of geriatric medicine is evaluating an elderly patient's ability to care for him- or herself (e.g., prepare and eat meals, bathe, dress).

Medical conditions that geriatricians may treat include the following:

  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Cancer (e.g., ovarian cancer, prostate cancer)
  • Dementia
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Heart disease
  • Osteoporosis
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Sleep disorders
  • Stroke

Due to improvements in medical care and nutrition and advances in technology, the number of people in the United States who are over the age of 65 is larger than ever before. This growing population often has special medical concerns.

Primary care physicians (e.g., general practitioners, family practitioners, internists) may provide medical care for elderly patients who do not have serious health concerns. However, when an older adult experiences physical, mental, or emotional illnesses or disabilities that lead to a dependence on assistance from others, or when his or her condition causes stress on caregivers (e.g., family members and friends), a geriatric physician should be consulted.

Geriatric physicians focus on all aspects of health care and work as part of a health care team to address issues that affect the elderly. Medical professionals who work with geriatricians include nurses, social workers, nutritionists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, pharmacists, and geriatric psychiatrists. The geriatric health care team focuses on many aspects of the patient's life, including his or her social support (e.g., spouse, children, other relatives), living conditions and home life, and community.

Geriatricians provide care in a number of settings. They see patients in hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, clinics, and physician offices, and often provide or manage in-home care.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 14 Nov 2008

Last Modified: 11 Aug 2011