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How Old Should You Be to See a Geriatric Doctor?

How old should you be to see a geriatric doctor? Seniorly can help you understand if consulting a geriatrician is a good idea for your loved one’s health.

By Emma Rodbro · Updated Aug 08, 2022
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We’re used to consulting medical specialists when we need to: physical therapists after injuries, orthodontists for braces, cardiologists when we have a family history of heart problems. But you might not know that there’s an entire field of geriatric medicine doctors can specialize in. Geriatricians focus on the issues older adults face: the way our bodies react differently to illness, injury, or simple aging as we grow older. Our rapidly aging society, in which the percentage of Americans over 65 years old quadrupled between 1900 and 2019, will undoubtedly make good use of geriatric doctors as the Baby Boomer generation continues to age.

If you’re wondering how you have to be to see a geriatric doctor the short answer is that there is no magic age where you suddenly need one. In fact, not every senior needs to see a geriatrician. If you’re feeling good, able to do the things you want to do, and manage any minor health conditions well, then you can probably stick with your primary care physician. If, however, you have multiple medical conditions that intersect and are exacerbated by age, a geriatrician might be able to help you manage the frailty brought on by these health issues.

Signs you should see a geriatrician

The American Geriatric Society recommends consulting a geriatrician if:

“An older person's condition causes considerable impairment and frailty. These patients tend to be over the age of 75 and coping with a number of diseases and disabilities, including cognitive (mental) problems.” And/or if “Family members and friends are feeling considerable stress and strain as caregivers.”

Geriatricians can help address both social and medical problems for seniors, and sometimes work in conjunction with social workers and other specialists. While family doctors are more than capable of helping many older adults manage their health as they age, the frailest seniors can benefit from a geriatrician’s expertise. If you or your loved one take multiple medications, suffer from memory problems, or have issues with balance or mobility, consider consulting a geriatric specialist. Don't limit yourself to these health issues either, for example: incontinence is manageable on its own, but when an older adult also has heart disease and Alzheimer's, it's time to seek help. In addition to working with families of seniors living at home, geriatric physicians can also work with assisted living, memory care, or nursing home staff to create care plans that maximize quality of life for older patients.

One more sign you should see a geriatrician is if you are or have been recently hospitalized, or if you know you’re about to be for a surgery or other medical need. One study showed that when seniors prepped for a hospital stay with a holistic care team of medical experts, including geriatric specialists, their stays were shorter and their readmission rates were half that of the control group.

Broadly speaking, we define a “senior” as someone over 65. But the seniors who would most benefit from seeing a geriatric doctor are usually older, in their 70s, 80s, or even 90s, and need help managing multiple age-related conditions. When the senior themself, or their family, find it difficult to keep up with complex treatment plans, a geriatrician can help them and their caretakers navigate their healthcare and coordinate with other care providers to ease the burden.

How to find a geriatrician

The American Geriatrics Society reports that despite a growing need for their services, there are only about 7,300 geriatric specialists in the US currently. This might make it difficult for you to find one in your area: use the AGS geriatrician finder for help. 

If there aren’t any geriatricians in your area, you might be able to consult one remotely using telehealth technology. And keep in mind that time is a factor for seniors with complex healthcare needs: if you feel your loved one would benefit from a geriatrician’s attention, make an appointment sooner rather than later. 

Works consulted:

Administration for Community Living. “Projected Future Growth of Older Population.” May 25, 2021. https://acl.gov/aging-and-disability-in-america/data-and-research/projected-future-growth-older-population

AGS Health in Aging Foundation. “Find a Geriatrics Healthcare Professional.” Accessed December 16, 2021. https://www.healthinaging.org/find-geriatrics-healthcare-professional.

American Geriatrics Society. “Why Geriatrics.” Accessed December 16 2021. https://www.americangeriatrics.org/geriatrics-profession/why-geriatrics.

Kiger, Patrick. “Coordinated Care Makes Surgery Safer For Older Patients.” January 3, 2018. https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2018/hospital-stays-elderly-fd.html.

Levine, Hallie. “When It’s Time to See a Geriatrician.” February 11, 2019. https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2019/geriatrics-specialist.html.

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written by:
Emma Rodbro

Emma Rodbro

Head of Growth Operations at Seniorly, MA in Social Work with focus on aging from UC Berkeley.
View other articles written by Emma

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