From our most dire emergencies, to the treatment of each and every broken bone, and from the adolescent to the aging, we depend on physicians to offer their expert guidance through every stage of our lives. For this we owe much appreciation to these professionals, but also awareness of their importance in helping us navigate our future health goals.

As an older adult, you’ve likely seen physicians of all kinds. And just when it seems that there is a doctor for nearly everything, there’s a professional for you, too! Geriatricians are a type of specialist that addresses the unique needs of the aging population. And while these physicians already do much of what your general practitioner does, a geriatrician offers additional services that answer to specific concerns for seniors.

Who needs a geriatrician?
Are you concerned with frailty, cognition, balance and medication management? Do you feel like your needs have grown with age? With seniors as the fastest growing demographic in the nation, more is being done to address their unique and changing needs, and helping them to continue to live longer, more fulfilling lives. While it isn’t essential that a person over the age of 65 see a geriatrician, elderly patients with a growing list of medical worries would do right to enlist the help of these specialists, who offer the following and much more:

– Assessment of Daily Activities: According to Older Americans 2016: Key Indicators of Well-Being, 44 percent of Medicare beneficiaries over the age of 65 required assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs) in 2013. Physicians trained in geriatric care consider the patient’s ability to perform ADLs. They also partner with physical, occupational, speech and orthopedic therapists to offer comprehensive and holistic approaches to aging wellness for home, work and play.

– Care for Increasing Risk Factors: While there are health concerns that everyone should heed, a geriatrician is sensitive to senior’s increased risk for certain conditions, including heart disease, cancer, bone diseases and others. As an older adult, illnesses such as the flu, and injuries to joints cannot be addressed the same as for younger individuals; Geriatricians are keen on this fact.

– Memory Diagnoses: A geriatric physician has extensive knowledge of age-associated ailments, including the signs and symptoms of dementia and other memory-related conditions. He or she will be able to identify current and potential cognitive impairments, and work with experts to offer the latest in memory care interventions.

– Mindful Medication Management: A geriatrician is skilled at polypharmacy — or the prescribing of multiple medications – as aging patients are more likely than younger adults to have more than one prescription, which increases the risk of interactions. Geriatric physicians are also current on vaccines for older adults.

With National Doctor’s Day behind us, we acknowledge the many things doctors do to help us live life to the fullest. But it’s also important to consider what you can do to help your physician provide the best care possible in the years ahead with these tips:

– Be honest: Tell your physician everything you’ve experienced since your last checkup. Don’t withhold information for fear of what you might find. This not only gives you the appropriate relief, but makes it easier for your primary care provider to help.

– Don’t wait. Communicate: Whether it’s a minor sprain or a sinus infection, don’t delay. Be prompt to notify your physician. He or she can help address and prevent conditions from rapidly getting worse (as they frequently do for older patients).

– Take notes: It can sometimes be hard to remember everything after you’ve left the doctor’s office. Along with your prescription, ask your physician to provide a printout of his or her orders. Put these materials on your fridge or in your medicine cabinet — anywhere that it is visible and accessible.

Lastly, don’t forget to send a word of thanks to your physician. Mail a greeting card, or bring healthful treats with you on your next doctor’s visit. Whether you’ve been seeing the same primary care for decades, or you’re getting to know a new provider, with National Doctor’s Day in our rearview, we owe much to the specialists who help keep us at our best – from babies to Boomers and beyond.

Author: Lisa Keller, RN, BSN, is the executive director of Morning Pointe of Danville Senior Living and Alzheimer’s Memory Care.