You’re more than just a patient in a higher age bracket.
As you reach your mid-60s and beyond, you need a primary health provider who’s attuned to changes in your body, mind and life. If it’s time to find a specialist focused on older patients, whether for yourself or a family member, here’s what to check for in your next clinician.
1. Specialists who listen
Try to find someone that talks to you, explains, and listens to what you have to say. Good listening ability is the first personality trait to look for. Geriatricians are physicians dedicated to the care of seniors, and advocate for older adults.
2. Life-span experts
In high demand and short supply – that’s the reality with geriatric specialists, particularly as the U.S. population ages. The fact is, you may not have access to a geriatric specialist in your area. Not to worry – family doctors can keep you covered at any age.
3. A reliable practice
Start your search by talking to friends and neighbors. Ask which practices in your community are accepting new patients. Call the office and find out: What does their waiting list look like and do they accept your insurance? That includes inquiring about the various Medicare plans. Also be sure to ask whether you can reach someone when the office is closed, she says. After-hours availability can help prevent hospitalizations.
4. Comfort level
You should feel comfortable when you step into the waiting room. Does everybody talk to each other? Do they get along, all of the staff? A welcoming atmosphere sets the tone. Making sure patients don’t have a sense of being rushed is important during your visit.
5. Evidence-based treatment
There’s little data to back many treatments that are commonly used for our aging community. You need clinicians who show a lot of caution before putting an older person on a medication, before sending him off to a specialist, before doing tests and before putting him into the hospital, because we actually have very little evidence that a lot of those things are beneficial. Examples of excess include giving cholesterol medication to people over 80 who’ve never had a heart problem or pursuing aggressive treatment for prostate cancer in men of that age.
6. Medication management
Geriatric specialists often streamline medications by eliminating drugs patients no longer need or that aren’t appropriate for their age. Pharmacists play an important role in geriatric health care by taking time to talk to and look out for their older patients. Make sure you use a single pharmacy, so that you have one place where it’s got all your medicines. That makes it easier for pharmacists to pick up on potential side effects and be alerted to drug interactions.
7. Special considerations
Experts recognize that older adults have special considerations in relation to a younger adult or even a child. When prescribing the idea is go low and go slow. We give then a lower dose. If a dose must be increased that will be done far more slowly in seniors. Similarly, diseases that appear one way in a 30-year-old patient may present very differently in that patient at 80.
8. Age-appropriate testing
Too-low levels of vitamin D, thyroid hormone and other deficiencies that affect bone health, the nervous system and various bodily functions tend to increase with age. Geriatric specialists monitor these levels with blood tests. When you reach 65, you’re entitled to yearly mental-status exams to check short-term memory and executive function. It’s not daunting, just part of the conversation during your routine Medicare wellness exam.
9. Quality of life
Care of older adults goes beyond the boundaries of the office visit. It includes probing for signs of isolation or loneliness that so many seniors experience. Asking patients about social support systems is routine. Family physicians do make house calls at times. Sometimes getting into the house can make a big difference, and you get to see where people live. It lends itself to ask environmental questions regarding their care and health that can assist in better treatment by the physician.
10. Family and privacy
When considering a practice, ask about its philosophy on family members. As the patient, address your preferences with the staff upfront regarding including family members in your physician visits and inquire as to: How much will they protect your privacy if that’s your choice? How much will they allow designated caregivers to be part of your team? How can we incorporate that?
11. Dignity and respect
Geriatric specialists communicate well with people who have memory loss or dementia if they’re alone or accompanied by family members. Most people with dementia can still answer many questions and provide important feedback for clinicians.