Elderly Caregiving--Who Are The Medical Professionals?

Geriatric care teams
A guide to medical professionals who care for the elderly. 

From surgeons to Home Health Aides, from family caregivers to psychiatrists--the field of geriatrics is broad and often confusing.

If you are embarking on the journey of caregiving for an elderly loved one, it may be surprised how many medical professionals you will get to know. They all play a special part in caring for your relative, and many will be there to support you as well.

But at first, it may be confusing. Who are all these people? Do you need them? How are you supposed to which person is the right one to tell about each issue or concern?

To help, here is a quick look at some of the many health care workers you may meet while being an elder caregiver:

You, The Caregiver

You already know that you are a care provider. You know what you do every day. But do you know everything about your position?

Basically, you are the eyes, ears, and mind of the person for whom you care. Without you, they would be alone and vulnerable. You notice everything about them; when they aren't eating normally, when they appear depressed, when they seem a little incoherent.

You stand between those with physical impairments and  cognitive issues and a world fraught with dangers, and when something, even the slightest change, appears it is you who brings it to the attention of their doctor.

Caregivers should never allow anyone to tell them they aren't part of the "team". In essence, you are the heart and soul of the team.


There are many different physicians that might be care providers for your loved one. Some doctors specialize only in adult medicine, others specifically in geriatric medicine.

There may be DO's or PA's (physicians assistants) when a specialist is not needed.

What type of doctor you choose depends on the needs of your loved one and the availability of different medical providers in your area. A general practitioner  is often used for everyday complaints and check-ups. They will refer your loved one to a specialist if needed.

Your loved one may need only one specialist. Or they could require many. If you have good doctors, they will be a network working together in the best interest of your loved one.


If your loved one has insurance such as Medicare, then they may have a case worker as well as other team members that manage their profile. Sometimes these are known as geriatric care managers.


Whether in a hospital, nursing facility or doctor's office; nurses play an key role in the care of your loved one. In the doctor's office, a nurse is often the receptionist as well.

She manages the appointments and can give some advice via the phone, (such as what to give in case of a fever). She can also relay information to and from the doctor.  In person, she takes vital signs and records any information that the doctor will need to know.

Depending on the facility, the nurse may do most or all of the assessment which the doctor will later read. In a nursing facility they are responsible for even more--managing charts, administering medications, and acting as go-betweens in the relationship between doctors and patients.

Nurses may also be private care, meaning that they come to the home to care for the elderly. These could be brief visits, or they could spend an entire shift--something that is often done in instances of hospice care.

Physical Therapists

Most people thing that physical therapy is only helpful to those recovering from an injury. But the benefits of PT cover much more area than that!

Therapists help elders maintain independence by strengthening their mobility, flexibility, balance and endurance. This treatment is necessary not just after injuries, but after illnesses and for those with certain conditions too.

Physical therapists also know how to use alternative pain treatments to relieve symptoms. PT's have to be stern and demanding to keep patients motivated, and they are often unloved by the elderly. Without physical therapy, many elders would be placed in skilled nursing care long before their time.

Aides and Assistants

On the medical team, you will meet many aides and assistants. Nurse's aides, medication aides, PT aides.

Just like nurses are the link between doctor and patient, aides are often the link between patients and nurses. In hospitals and care facilities, nurse's aides are the people on the floor delivering personal patient care. They can provide everything but medical care. Medication aides or nurses will administer medication, while nurse's aides (CNAs) handle bathing, grooming, changing, room maintenance feeding and more.

Aides and assistants also keep an eye out for any problems. They notice physical and emotional symptoms and report to their nurses.

Physical Therapy aides assist therapists. Home health aides perform duties similar to CNA's, only they do so under the supervision of a Home Health Nurse, in your home.

In some places, the terms "aide" and "assistant" are used interchangeably. But usually, assistants have higher levels of training.

Optometrists and Ophthalmologists

Eye care is important at any age. For regular eye exams and glasses, an optometrist may be all that is needed. However, if there are more serious issues such as glaucoma or cataracts, an ophthalmologist may become part of your care team.


Like eye care, foot care is essential for the elderly. Any type of pain in the feet can lead to poor mobility, which increases the chance of falling.

A specialist may not be needed in most cases, but are recommended if the elderly suffer from diabetes, a condition that places their feet at risk of infections and gangrene without proper care.


Dentist and dental hygienists see to the oral health of the elderly. Even elders who wear dentures need routine dental checkups to make sure their dentures are still fitting properly and that there are no diseases in the mouth or gums.

Since the elderly produce less saliva, it is easier for bacteria to build up in their mouths. Also, a lessened sensitivity to taste and temperature can lead to injuries of the mouth that can cause discomfort or infections.

Routine oral check-ups can also reveal other health issues, so the dentist becomes part of your loved one's important network of carers.

Pharmacists and Technicians

Doctors may be the people we trust to make the diagnosis and the best prescription...but sometimes small details escape their notice. Often, nurses will notice discrepancies in medications and treatments.

When they don't, it is the responsibility of the pharmacist and the pharmacy technicians to catch an errors before they can harm anyone. May lives have been saved because someone in the pharmacy happened to noticed a dosage error or a prescription for drugs that could cause harm when used together.

Pharmacists also offer advice on over-the-counter medications, and the safety of taking prescriptions and certain OTC drugs together. They will also make sure you understand the proper way to use, store, and time medications, as well which side effects are normal.

Many More Professionals

Here are more members of the health care team with whom you may work while you care for a loved one:

Phlebotomist--this is the person who draws blood for medical testing

Lab Tech--This person will draw blood then perform diagnostic tests to determine illnesses or disease.

Emergency Responders--EMT's and paramedics respond to 911 calls. As well as providing on site care, they transport sick or injured people to the hospital and perform life-saving techniques.

Chiropractors--chiropractic adjustments are sometimes helpful in treating arthritis and other painful conditions.

Dietitian--for those with nutritional needs, dietitians and nutritionists help educate the elderly and their caregivers about proper diets and healthy eating habits.

Respiratory Therapist--helps with breathing issues and oxygenation issues.

Speech Therapists--assist patients who have experienced strokes. They also do assessments for those with swallowing difficulties.

Audiologists--if your loved one has decreased hearing, they may be assessed to see if they need hearing aids.

Geriatric Psychiatrist--there  is a whole field dedicated to the mental health needs of the elderly. Geriatric psychiatry comes with its own dumber of doctors, therapists, nurses and other specialists.

Why A Health Care Team is Important

Over the years some, or all, of these professionals may assist you.

No one can manage the total health care of a senior entirely alone, although the  home caregiver can play many aspects of different roles.

The important thing to remember is that no one person is more important than the next--but rather, without any single person, the health and well-being of the elderly would be severely compromised.

Choose a good team, and play your part with pride.