Ask the BJC Expert

Ask the BJC Expert

Aging in Health

Published on Tuesday, November 05, 2019

As we age, our health begins to decline. Oftentimes, this can be managed by a primary care physician; however, some older patients with complex health issues might benefit more from being cared for by a geriatrician. 

A Geriatric Specialist
Unlike primary care physicians who treat anyone from teenagers to the elderly, geriatricians are physicians who specialize in treating the older population. They receive additional training and education to hone their expertise to address the unique health issues that come with aging. Just because a patient is 65 years of age or older doesn’t necessarily mean they need to see a geriatrician. However, geriatricians are more qualified to care for older patients with complicated health — such as those with several serious health issues, on multiple medications or with conditions more common in older age like Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or incontinence.

Complete Health Management
To address the complex needs of their patients, geriatricians often spend more time with patients than primary care physicians do. A typical visit can be 45 minutes to an hour, allowing the geriatrician and the patient to discuss health problems in depth and ask and address any questions. Geriatricians also work closely with other members of the care team. This includes social workers, home health professionals, caregivers and specialists. For example, a patient with cancer will likely also be under the care of an oncologist. Their geriatrician would work with their oncologist to ensure continuity and maintain an overall perspective of their care.

Care for the Caregiver
Caring for an elderly loved one can be difficult. Because of this, caregivers can suffer from a condition referred to as caregiver burnout, a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion. Geriatricians can provide significant support to caregivers, helping them learn how to take care of the patient and how to take care of themselves as well. If a caregiver needs a break, they might be eligible for respite care, or short-term relief. In addition to learning how to administer medication, what side effects to look out for and when to seek immediate medical attention, caregivers may be able to take a break from their caregiving responsibilities, knowing their loved one is in good hands with a trusted geriatrician.

Saira Asadullah, MD, is a BJC Medical Group geriatric and internal medicine specialist on staff at Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital. You can schedule an appointment with Dr. Asadullah online or by calling 636.928.WELL.

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