Basic Facts

As a result of becoming old, adults may have unique health conditions. Geriatrics healthcare professionals have special training to help older adults maintain their health and independence for as long as possible.

One of the challenges of aging is that more than half of older adults have three or more medical problems at the same time. These problems can include heart disease, diabetes, arthritis or a dementia, like Alzheimer's disease. Some older adults may have with additional health problems, like difficulty doing daily activities.

Geriatrics professionals focus on 5 key areas when caring for older adults. They are known as the Geriatrics 5Ms: Multicomplexity, Mind, Mobility, Medications, and what Matters most.

The Geriatrics 5Ms*
Multicomplexity Geriatrics health professionals1 focus on these 4Ms… When caring for older adults, all health professionals should consider…
...describes the whole person, typically an older adult, living with multiple chronic conditions, advanced illness, and/or with complicated biopsychosocial needs. Mind
  • Mentation
  • Dementia
  • Delirium
  • Depression
  • Amount of mobility and function
  • Impaired gait (the medical term for how you walk) and balance
  • Prevention of injuries from falls
  • Polypharmacy (the medical term for taking several medications) and de-prescribing (the opportunity to stop unnecessary medications)
  • Optimal prescribing (working to make sure the quality, rather than quantity, of medications you take serves your personal needs as you age)
  • Adverse medication effects (the medical term for serious side effects associated with medications) and medication burden
What Matters Most
  • Each individual’s own meaningful health outcome goals and care preferences

1Geriatrics health professionals are pioneers in advanced-illness care for older individuals, with a focus on championing interprofessional teams, eliciting personal care goals, and treating older people as whole persons.

* Adapted by the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) with permission from “The public launch of the Geriatric 5Ms [on‐line]," by F. Molnar and available from the Canadian Geriatrics Society (CGS) at… Accessed July 14, 2020.

Who Provides Geriatric Care?

Geriatrics is a team approach to caring for older people and supporting family caregivers, including close friends. The geriatrics care team may include:

  • Geriatricians, who are doctors with special training in evaluating and managing older adults’ healthcare needs and treatment. These doctors are board-certified internists or family physicians who have additional training and certification in geriatrics. Geriatricians often care for frail and medically complex older adults in multiple settings, including acute or hospital care, sub-acute rehabilitation, long-term care, assisted living facilities, ambulatory (office) settings, or at a patient’s home.
  • Geriatric (or Gerontological) Nurse Practitioners are advanced practice  nurses with additional training and certification in caring for older adults. A geriatric nurse practitioner can do physical exams, diagnose, and treat illnesses, and prescribe medications. They work in many medical and long-term care places.
  • Physician assistants are licensed medical professionals. They practice medicine and prescribe medications. Generally, physicians supervise physician assistants as part of the medical team. 
  • Social workers are licensed professionals who help people deal with their lives, including mental and physical health problems. Some social workers specialize in diagnosing and treating mental health issues.
  • Consultant pharmacists are pharmacists who specialize in prescribing medications to address older adults’ health needs.
  • Dietitians are experts in the role of food and nutrition in health. They provide advice to people on which foods to eat for good health or manage a health problem.
  • Physical therapists help people improve their mobility and reduce their pain. Physical therapists treat older adults to help manage arthritis, joint replacements, and balance problems.
  • Occupational therapists help people do their daily activities like housekeeping, driving, and more basic tasks, like eating, bathing, and dressing. They help older adults with activities such as physical movement, including balance, strength, and coordination).
  • Speech and hearing specialists focus on helping people hear, talk, swallow, and assess cognition. They manage diseases like Parkinson’s disease, brain injuries, and strokes.
  • Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating mental health problems. Geriatric psychiatrists have special training related to the mental health of older adults and prescribe medications when necessary.
  • Psychologists treat mental health conditions through the use of therapy and counseling. They aren’t medical doctors so they don’t prescribe medications. They often work in tandem with psychiatrists and social workers in treating older adults.

A geriatrics health professional team includes health care professionals who can treat older adults’ needs. These professionals evaluate an older adult’s medical, social, emotional, and other needs. The team treats health conditions such as falls, memory problems, and multiple chronic conditions and medications.

When to See a Geriatrician?

Consider seeing a geriatrician when:

  • An older adult has health conditions that cause disability or frailty (where someone is weak and has difficulty with daily activities). People often begin to lose their abilities after age 75.  These older adults typically live with a number of diseases and disabilities. These may include problems with cognition (thinking, learning, and memory) or other geriatric syndromes such as incontinence, depression, or functional limitations.
  • Family caregivers, which may include close friends, have a lot of stress.
  • An older adult has trouble following complex treatments or managing treatments involving many healthcare providers.

How Can I Find a Geriatrics Healthcare Professional?

You can use our free Find a Geriatrics Health Professional tool to get an instant list of healthcare providers in your area who are trained in the special health care needs of older adults.

Search by city, state, or zip code or call 800-563-4916 to have a list mailed to you.


Last Updated May 2023

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