Am I really geriatric?

Woman in her 60s talks with health care provider.

And other questions a geriatric care specialist can answer

Here in the United States, sometime around age 65 tends to be bring major life changes. It can feel a bit like society went from seeing you as young to seeing you as old overnight.

Of course, life isn’t over at 65 and aging is a lifelong process. But there are health care changes that most people experience in their sixties — like switching to Medicare. Getting older can bring new health issues and care needs too.

No matter how healthy you are, your sixties is a great time to start seeing a geriatrician: a primary care provider with special expertise and training in caring for older adults.

Why? We asked Neesha Patel, M.D., geriatrician at the OHSU Center for Women’s Health, to answer this question and more.

Am I really geriatric?

Dr. Patel: Geriatric is just a medical term for a different phase of your life. It’s solely based on age and doesn’t mean that you’re sick or having memory loss, or any other symptoms or health problems. I prefer the term ‘older adult’ and many of my patients do too. 

How is a geriatrician different from a regular primary care provider?

Dr. Patel: All primary care providers can take care of older adults, but geriatricians have extra training in caring for people as they age. We are good at making sure you only take medications you really need and watching for those gradual changes that come with age. A geriatrician can be your primary care doctor. Or if you already have a primary care provider you love, we can see you as needed to help with your care plan.

I’m healthy. Why see a geriatrician?

Dr. Patel: As you age, it becomes even more important to monitor your health over time. We know the questions to ask and signs to look out for to catch any problems right away. There are also normal changes that happen as you age. The way you tolerate medication changes, your symptoms for common illnesses change, and how an injury or major illness affects you may change too.

Medicare covers one appointment each year for preventive care. What will we talk about?

Dr. Patel: Medicare visits are focused completely on preventive care. This means it’s a great time to set aside any chronic conditions you have and take care of things like screenings for memory loss, risk of falling, and cancer. I also use that time to talk about your health goals and what good quality of life looks like to you. Lastly, I use that time to check for any changes in your overall health. At your first Medicare visit, I ask questions to establish a baseline. For example, do you prepare your own meals? I revisit these questions each year to make sure we catch even small changes in your health.

I have a symptom that’s new for me. Is something wrong or am I just getting old?

Dr. Patel: This is one of the most common questions that I answer for my patients. Building a partnership with my patients really helps us both understand what is normal for them, and their age, and what might not be.

Can I come to appointments with my partner?

Dr. Patel: Please do! Bring your partner to your appointment or schedule back-to-back appointments with me and come to them together. I love taking care of partners together because I hear such wonderful stories and it really gives me insight into their health. Anyone age 60 or older, of any sex or gender, can see me at the OHSU Center for Women’s Health.