Geriatrician  What They Do

Just the Facts


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dotWorking with the elderly isn't about death and dying -- it's about life and living.

Geriatricians are medical doctors who specialize in the ailments of the elderly. After other specialists have examined the patient, sometimes it takes a geriatrician to understand the root of the problem. And that can make the difference between a full productive life and simply being alive.

dotGeriatricians typically deal with memory loss, urinary incontinence, Alzheimer's disease, osteoporosis and mental health issues such as depression.

As well, it's quite common for them to help get patients off medication. By the time a patient gets to the geriatrician, they may be on as many as 15 different medications. Chronic fatigue, or even depression, may be the result.

Geriatricians can sometimes determine which medications are no longer necessary. They may even prescribe alternative measures -- such as getting more exercise -- to help the patient feel better.

dotAnother factor that makes geriatrics so interesting is that the bulk of health-care dollars are spent on the elderly. As a result, people involved in geriatrics can end up working in a wide variety of settings -- research, long-term care facilities, nursing homes, community center outreach programs, public health units, hospitals and private practices.

dotThere is also variety among the patients. Our bodies alter as we age, but the effect of illness and disease varies tremendously. Doctors can't compare one 87-year-old to another, as you would two 40-year-olds, because their bodies are so different.

Dr. John Burton is a director of geriatrics at a hospital. "Today I probably saw 10 patients," says Burton. "Many had dementia, diabetes and osteoporosis, but there was an enormous variation in them because of the many ways of aging."

dotUnlike general practitioners, geriatricians end up working with a wide variety of professionals in other disciplines -- nurses, social workers, community health-care workers, and quite probably the patient's extended family or spouse.

When patients are discharged from hospital, they might need help from a variety of agencies -- such as a private housekeeping service -- to have a successful recovery. The geriatrician may be called on to help bring these services together.

At a Glance

Specialize in the ailments of the elderly

  • As the baby boomers age, there will be an increasing demand for geriatricians
  • You can end up working in a wide variety of settings, from research facilities to nursing homes to hospitals
  • Expect to spend eight to 10 years in college