Shadowing a DoctorJanuary 22, 2014
Geriatric psychiatrists specialise in diagnosing and treating mental health issues that are commonly seen in older patients.
Certain mental disorders, such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and others tend to occur later in life. Complicating matters is the fact that older people may also may be dealing with several emotional upheavals such as:
- grief over the loss of a spouse or lifelong friends
- fears of illness or death
- feelings of isolation or lack of purpose
- problems coping with changes around them
- emotional problems associated with health concerns such as a cancer diagnosis or coping with pain
- stress over financial issues
Geriatric psychiatrists are highly trained in skills required to help patients with these age-related concerns as well as patients suffering from mental disorders such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression or alcohol/substance abuse, which can happen at any age.
Because mental health issues in older patients are often coupled with physical problems, geriatric psychiatrists strive to treat the patient as a “whole” person. Many patients who see a geriatric psychiatrist are also seeing other health care providers for other health issues. Both professionals will usually consult together to determine whether or not the other health issues and medications are affecting the patient’s mental condition.
In addition to taking into consideration the overall health and emotional state of the patient, they also look into whether or not the patient has any social support system. In most cases, the geriatric psychiatrist may have to consult with the patient’s family members to obtain information about the patient’s situation and to ensure that the patient understands and is able to follow the treatment plan.
Besides patient care, these professionals can also opt to teach in med school, engage in research or consult with companies that are associated with research and development of medication to treat mental illnesses of the elderly.
Geriatric psychiatrists work in private and group practices, assisted living centres, veteran’s hospital, long term care facilities and academic institutions.
The work can be very challenging but also very rewarding. Geriatric psychiatrists can greatly improve quality of life for patients who have mental illnesses and for their families.
To become a geriatric psychiatrist you must first spend 4 years in medical school training to become a medical doctor. After this you have to complete a 4 year residency program in general psychiatry and a one year fellowship in geriatric psychiatry. You could also choose to obtain additional fellowship training in research or educational scholarship.
You then have to pass two exams in order to become board-certified in geriatric psychiatry. While certification is not a necessity to practice, it serves as recognition of the doctor’s specialised knowledge and skills, and may be required by certain employers.
The annual average salary of a geriatric psychiatrist in the UK is £56,000.
Salaries vary greatly depending on the size and setting of the practice. Highly experienced specialists in private practice can earn as much as £89,000 a year.