While getting older doesn’t necessarily mean physical or cognitive decline, few of us escape some of the challenges that accompany an aging body. And what can be really helpful in this process is having a trusted physician alongside us to explain what’s going on and help us navigate whatever comes along. Presumably, that would mean having a physician who, if not a geriatrician herself, at least has some expertise in geriatric patient care. But finding a geriatrician in this day and age is a problem. There’s a shortage of physicians specifically trained in geriatrics (a problem that has existed for many years, according to geriatrician Muriel Gillick) and too few medical students receive sufficient training in geriatrics to be able to understand complex changes in an aging body or to rid themselves of biases against older people.
So it may be a challenge to find a physician who understands what you’re going through and is empathetic to your situation. You may think about looking at online reviews of physicians to see if you can find someone well-reviewed (a recent survey conducted by the National Poll on Healthy Aging shows some seniors have embraced this type of search while others still seek word-of-mouth recommendations). Or maybe, you might think an older physician would naturally be more of a kindred spirit- but be careful about selecting senior physicians. A recent article in JAMA network reported that 13% of physicians over age 70 who were cognitively tested before being re-appointed to the hospital staff at Yale-New Haven Hospital were found to have cognitive deficits serious enough to impair their ability to practice on their own. This is not to suggest that all older physicians are impaired but it does remind us that physicians are not immune from the deficits that can accompany aging.
So, how do you find a physician who really understands what you’re going through and can respond accordingly? There may be a lot of frustration in the search (for example, see the new blogpost of agebuzz blogger Alice Herb), but one way to help find out if your physicians truly understand your situation is to make sure you communicate effectively and thoroughly. The National Institute on Aging has a comprehensive guide for older adults on how to talk with your physician, and agebuzz Contributing Editor Julie Buyon has also posted several pieces on organizing yourself and preparing for a visit with your physician. And if you’re in search of a geriatrician, the American Geriatrics Society does have a list by state of medical practitioners who have advanced training in geriatrics. To find out more, click here.