What is Geriatric Psychiatry?

Geriatric psychiatry is the subspecialty practice of psychiatry in older adults typically aged 60 years and older. Specific populations, like the young or the elderly, often need more specialized care. Just as child & adolescent psychiatrists address the specific needs of young people, geriatric psychiatrists specialize in providing care to older adults.

Geriatric psychiatrists have specialized training in late-life psychiatric syndromes such as delirium, dementia, depression, bipolar, anxiety, psychoses, substance abuse, personality disorder, as well as biopsychosocial problems in older adult patients. Their training includes psychotherapy with older adults and their families, long term care psychiatry and consultation-liaison, as well as additional training in geriatric medicine and neurology. Therefore, geriatric psychiatrists have a higher comfort level and more experience in providing psychiatric care to older adults with multiple co-morbid medical problems who are on multiple medications.

Geriatric psychiatrists understand that mental health issues in older patients are more often intertwined with physical health and/or social circumstances. Because geriatric psychiatrists are medical doctors, they can make assessments that take into account both the person’s medical and emotional history. For example, a patient’s depression could be the result of a cancer diagnosis, chronic pain, or an unnoticed interaction of medications; anxiety may be increased by memory loss or a new medical diagnosis; or, grief may trigger a descent into substance abuse. Geriatric psychiatrists are trained to take into consideration the complexities of the patient’s age, medical history, and life circumstances and strive to treat the patient as a “whole” person.

As cognitive disorders become more prevalent as age increases, geriatric psychiatrists can also assist with the diagnosis and treatment of dementia, as well as well as counsel family members and caregivers on how to cope with the demands of caregiving. Geriatric psychiatrists are uniquely trained at treating the mood and behavioral disturbances that develop throughout the course of the disease, and thus, are the only physicians that have something to offer dementia patients and their caregivers at every stage of the disease- from diagnosis to end stage.

Older adults have special physical, emotional, and social needs. Understanding this, the geriatric psychiatrist takes a respectful, compassionate, and comprehensive approach to diagnosis and treatment. The goal of geriatric psychiatry is to maximize quality of life and functionality of older patients and empower them to live their best, most dignified, life possible.