7 Things You Donít (But Should) Know About Geriatric Psychiatrists

The term ‘geriatric psychiatrist’ may not be as ubiquitous as a regular psychiatrist, but these specially-trained experts in elder mental health have a vital role to play in the coming decades, as America’s population ages.

Helen Kales, M.D., professor of psychiatry and Director of the Section of Geriatric Psychiatry at the University of Michigan says the ultimate goal of a geriatric psychiatrist is to “maximize quality of life and functionality of the older patient.”

Here are a few more things that you may not (but probably should) know about geriatric psychiatrists:

They are rare: Kales estimates that there are only about 1,600 geriatric psychiatrists actively practicing in the United States. To put this figure in perspective, there are around 16.5 regular psychiatrists but less than one geriatric psychiatrist for every 100,000 Americans.

They can prescribe medications: All geriatric psychiatrists undergo four years of medical school after they receive an undergraduate degree. As doctors, they can (and often do) prescribe medication to help an elder cope with various mental conditions.

But they dont always turn to prescriptions first: While there are certain cases in which medications can help aging adults with mental conditions such as depression and certain dementias, drugs are often not the go-to remedy. “The limitations of antipsychotics is a topic that is very important to discussÖRisk/benefit is very important. At times, the benefit may outweigh the risks. But, that said, they are used too much and too many times in people for whom the risk outweighs the benefit,” says Kales.

They can help diagnose dementia: While they cannot offer a definitive diagnosis based solely on a mental evaluation, geriatric psychiatrists can help identify symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, and can be a good place to start if a loved one is experiencing concerning cognitive impairment.

They can act as liaisons between doctors, patients and caregivers: Part of the challenge of managing an older adult’s medical care is juggling multiple doctors who specialize in different diseases. For example, a cardiologist may not fully understand the effect of your mother’s depression has on her willingness to stick to her cholesterol medication regimen. A geriatric psychiatrist can help explain the situation, and help devise a plan that encourages your mother to take her prescriptions as recommended.

They understand the importance of family caregivers: “Caregivers offer a window to the older patient’s past personality, their likes and dislikes,” says Kales.

They can help caregivers cope: One of the most important functions of a geriatric psychiatrist is to assist those who are taking care of an elderly loved one deal with the practical and emotional challenges they face as family caregivers.

To learn more about geriatric psychiatrists, check out Dr. Kales’ article “Geriatric Psychiatrists: How Can We Help You?


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By Anne-Marie Botek, AgingCare.com Editor


Anne F.
Anne F3 years ago

Interesting - people of all ages can benefit from a fair-minded listener who helps them think things through

June Bostock
June Bostock3 years ago


Genoveva M M.
Genoveva M M3 years ago


Steve McCrea
Steve McCrea3 years ago

This sounds like some sort of advertisement for psychiatrists. I don't buy it. The profession has pretty much sold out to corporate interests and spends most of its time diagnosing people with speculative "diseases" that they vote into existence, and then drugging people whose behavior or emotions fall outside of the sacred "normal" range. I've been a nursing home advocate and seen how psychiatric drugs are commonly used, and it's not usually to improve the quality of life for the residents - it is more likely to make them more manageable for the staff.

I have little to no trust of psychiatrists as a rule. There are some good ones out there, but the bulk are too arrogant to understand that we know next to nothing about brains and that manipulating brain chemistry usually does more harm than good in the long run. A little reading about the history of the psychiatric profession will give anyone pause before trusting a PR tract like this one.

---- Steve

Barb Hansen
Ba H3 years ago

is that a psychiatrist that is geriatric or that helps geriatric patients? it reads funny.

Natasha Salgado
Past Member 3 years ago

Thank you

Jane H.
Jane H3 years ago


Pamela Tracy
Pamela Tracy3 years ago

Millions of other qualified people as friends can do all of the same thing....except prescribe prescriptions. Even now people and families are more responsible when their elders take prescriptions. And, even now families help their elderly parents with their doctors visits. Even, now even geriatric outpatients know a lot more and care a lot more about how they are treated by physicians. Frankly, if physicians would stop giving such drugs as Zoloft and other crap, we would not have a nation of forgetters and family members vulnerable to Allzheimer's when they grow older. I would throw that crap in my physician's face believe me if they ever said I should take Zoloft or Resperidal...these drugs can kill a person if they try to get off of them. I do not have to live with others minds.....I have my own mind and their thoughts and psychoses cannot be transferred to me. And, this country needs to stop medium groups and law enforcement from turning people into robots. Several new books out on the New Thought Police by people who are not afraid to challenge law enforcement .....law enforcement thrives on lies and gossip......hoping if you are not what they say, you will turn into what they say and if you don't they stalk you and beat you up and disable you because you would not play for either side. I would win so many lie detector tests about trash lies said by law enforcement that I could make them look like scum.

Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra3 years ago

Thank you AgingCare.com, for Sharing this!

Tanya W.
Tanya W3 years ago