The field of geriatric medicine is related to the treatment and prevention of diseases in elderly patients. The goal for the doctors is to increase the vitality and lifespan of their patients, as is the case with most doctors, but these doctors do so for patients who require specialized care. There isn't a specific age at which you should start seeing a geriatric specialist, but rather the decision should be made based on the individual needs of the patient.
The main difference between geriatric medicine and standard adult medicine is that geriatric medicine takes into account the various underlying issues that may be present in an elderly person, like organ system decline and mental health degradation. Since the body changes with age, an older body is going to have a default functional level below that of a young adult. This is because organs only function at their optimal level for a certain period of time, and certain lifestyle choices can hasten the process. For instance, those who consume alcohol use up their liver's reserve strength faster than a non-drinker. These factors will need to be considered by a geriatric doctor.
Another important distinction between adult medicine and geriatrics is that geriatric functional assessments allow the geriatricians to determine if an elderly person is experiencing a disease or a normal side effect of the aging process. Some natural effects of the aging process can be lessened or reversed with proper care and medication, and many elderly diseases can be treated just as effectively.
Highly Specialized Care Due to the prominently vague nature of elderly disease, geriatric doctors must be highly trained to handle the increase in complexity over a younger, more naturally healthy patient. Geriatric health can be highly unstable, so much so that a geriatric depression scale exists to categorize a specific form of depression that affects the elderly, and ranks its severity.
Geriatric doctors have to be aware of the potential complications involved with any health issue an elderly person might experience. Mild or moderate symptoms like dehydration and low-grade fever can actually lead to more serious problems, like dizziness that could cause a serious fall. These specialists also have to take into account the geriatric drugs that their patients already receive, since over-prescribing elderly patients is a serious cause for concern. Some estimates say that as many as 1 in 25 elderly adults are at risk for a negative drug interaction that could lead to serious or even lethal consequences. Geriatric medications are often adjusted at the discretion of the geriatrician to ensure no such events occurs.
There are many geriatric conditions that plague a majority of elderly patients. These include general immobility, loss of bladder control, imbalance or instability, and hindered intellect or memory loss. Other common issues include problems with hearing or vision. If left unchecked, these conditions can lead to greater depression and a sense of isolation from the world. Geriatricians are trained to deal with these specific conditions as they arise, and to help prevent them before they manifest in the first place.
Less common conditions can be difficult to diagnosis in an elderly person, simply because the patient might have difficulty conveying the problem to the physician. Many health issues that plague the elderly affect their cognition to the point that communication becomes strained. This means that the geriatrician will have to rely strictly on information gleaned from examining the patient, and in many cases be forced to search for a potential cause that may or may not be life-threatening. Fortunately, most of the underlying causes are easily treatable, if found in time.