Articles of Interest

The Right Doctor for Your Elder

For those of us who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, it seems that our world has become very specialized. For example, when I was playing basketball we had a choice of two sneakers: Keds or Converse. And with those two choices there were only two colors choices: black or white.

This past Holiday Season, I went to a mall (not my favorite place) to look for a pair of pink, high-top, Converse sneakers for my 12 year old daughter. There must have been half-a-dozen stores that offered the shoes and every color of the rainbow was available. Oh, how a few short decades have made such a huge difference in our shopping habits.

Variety has provided us the option of selecting just the right product or service for our particular needs – not a bad thing, though many of us old timers would rather go back to the “good old days.” Yet, do we care nearly as much about our health care choices as we do our sneakers? Of course, I’m being facetious, but the point is still well represented – we need to recognize the many choices in health care (i.e., physicians) just as we do our shopping choices for clothes.

This need to be aware of our health care choices is never as apparent as it is in the choice for a physician for our elders. For years and years, our parents or loved-ones visited with “their” doctor, who was most likely a congenial man (not as many female doctors “back in the day”) who they may have played golf with on Wednesday afternoons.

Times have changed. Choices have improved in all walks of life. Yet, I would guess that most elder folks are still seeing, as their primary physician, the same GP or Internist that they’ve been visiting for decades. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with that choice, it does eliminate the wonderful world of specialists.

Why seek out a specialist? Quite simply: To avail ourselves of a physician who can do the most good for our loved-one is the logical choice when trying to treat an illness – the greater the specialty, the greater the chance of resolving that particular problem. For example, you are concerned that your mom may be developing some form of dementia, so you take her to see her long-time friend and physician, who has been an Internist for over 35 years. What do you think the chances are that this physician will run a battery of tests or refer your mom to a specialist, like a geriatric psychiatrist, to determine the degree of existence of dementia? Certainly not as high as having your mom see a specialist who’s focused all day long on reviewing the presenting facts that may lead to a more accurate diagnosis, either for or against that of dementia. The point: today’s variety of choices, although at times mind boggling, can lead to greater satisfaction and positive outcomes compared to the options of many years ago.

The need for a specialized physician who understands the elder population has come of age. Geriatricians are beginning to make their way into mainstream medical care, and thank goodness for that trend as we have desperately needed a fresh, holistic approach to treating our elder folks.

Geriatricians are trained to not only understand the medical needs of the senior patient, but to also view the entire person so that medical choices are not made in a vacuum, rather with the total person’s needs in mind.

When seeking out a physician appropriate for your elder loved one, do the following:

  • Ask a nurse who knows of or has worked with the doctor.
  • Ask for a reference from another trusted healthcare provider.
  • Check the doctor’s credentials online at a source such as
  • Observe how the doctor interacts with your loved-one. The doctor should speak “to, not about” your parent. The doctor should connect with, not ignore your parent.
  • Test the doctor to see if he’d respect your parent’s wishes. Take your parent’s Advance Directives to the doctor and ask if he/she will be able to respect and implement end-of-life wishes.
  • If your parent has strong cultural or religious views, it may be helpful to select a doctor of that particular religious sect.

In today’s myriad of choices for selecting an eldercare physician, spend the time to review the needs and concerns of your elder loved-one, and then make a choice that best fits those needs. As much as we “old timers” proclaim that the world was such better place to live when we were young, today’s world does have its advantages – use those choices for your better health.


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