The number of people 65 and older is larger than ever before, and those 85 and older constitute the fastest growing segment of the population. When the baby boom generation enters its senior years, between 2010 and 2030, it is projected that one in five Americans will be over 65. With this "graying of America" comes not only the demand for physicians and other health care professionals with expertise in geriatrics, but also a huge growth in the number of caregivers: family and friends who can help older loved ones live longer and healthier lives.
Geriatrics is the branch of medicine that focuses on health promotion and the prevention and treatment of disease and disability in later life. A geriatrician is a medical doctor who is specially trained to prevent and manage the unique and, oftentimes, multiple health concerns of older adults. Older persons may react to illness and disease differently than younger adults. Geriatricians are able to treat older patients, manage multiple disease symptoms, and develop care plans that address the special health care needs of older adults. Generally, geriatricians are primary care physicians who are board-certified in either Family Practice or Internal Medicine and have also acquired the additional training necessary to obtain the Certificate of Added Qualifications in Geriatric Medicine.
There are approximately 9,000 geriatricians in the U.S. In addition, there are several hundred osteopathic physicians (DO) certified in geriatrics, as well as some 2,400 board-certified geropsychiatrists (a psychiatrist trained to deal with the mental health needs and specific syndromes faced by older adults). Other health care professionals who work on a geriatrics team, such as nurses, pharmacists and physical therapists, may have advanced training and hold special certifications in geriatrics.