Geriatrics and gerontology: what are the differences?

Geriatrics and gerontology: what are the differences?

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Geriatrics and gerontology are two complementary scientific disciplines that focus on the problems of older people. How to distinguish them? Who to consult? Explanations from Dr Tristan Cudennec, geriatrician in Boulogne-Billancourt (92).

Often confused with each other, geriatrics and gerontology are two different but very complementary disciplines in understanding the issues related to aging. These two disciplines are interested in the elderly. Discover the differences between geriatrics and gerontology and the areas of expertise of each of these specialties.

Geriatrics: a medical specialty dedicated to the elderly

A recognized medical discipline in its own right, geriatrics is a medical specialty that focuses on pathologies associated with aging and their potential impact on the autonomy of the people concerned. It is based on a medico-psycho-social assessment. “Geriatrics offers comprehensive health care for elderly people who are often affected by the existence of multiple and chronic pathologies linked to aging: heart failure, neuro-cognitive disorders, walking disorders, sarcopenia, malnutrition, cancers, polypharmacy…”underlines Dr Tristan Cudennec, geriatrician in Boulogne-Billancourt (92).

In geriatrics, the evaluation of a patient is multi-dimensional. Indeed, beyond the medical dimension strictly speaking, a geriatrician will take into account the psychological dimension and the overall environment of the elderly person. “Loneliness, psychological disorders, evaluation of the patient’s environment… All these elements will be taken into consideration during an evaluation consultation”, continues Dr. Tristan Cudennec. The geriatrician works in coordination with a multi-professional team: nurse, physiotherapist, speech therapist, occupational therapist, etc. As is the case for any medical specialty, the consultation with a geriatric doctor is generally reimbursed by the CPAM.

A recourse via the treating doctor most often

A geriatrician can practice privately, in hospitals or in structures such as accommodation establishments for dependent elderly people (EHPAD). “Patients are generally referred to us by their treating physician with a letter of recommendation. However, sometimes patients or families make an appointment directly with us, without going through their general practitioner. This is often the case when the family begins to detect cognitive fragility in their loved one. specifies Dr Tristan Cudennec. In addition, geriatric doctors can recommend carrying out an assessment in a dedicated structure when they detect the existence of neuro-cognitive disorders or when they notice the beginnings of a loss of autonomy.

Before being recognized as a medical specialty in its own right, geriatrics was practiced by doctors qualified in another medical specialty (rheumatology, internal medicine, etc.), with geriatrics representing complementary training to their specialty. “This is one of the reasons why it is difficult to list the number of geriatric doctors because many doctors are listed based on their original specialty.” specifies Dr Tristan Cudennec.

Gerontology: the science of studying aging

While a geriatrician can be a gerontologist, the opposite is not always true. Indeed, gerontology, the science concerned with aging, brings together many professionals with varied skills: biology, psychology, sociology, demography, public health, health economics, engineering, architecture, law, etc. “Some gerontologists can be directly linked to the elderly, but this is not always the case, they do not necessarily work in the field of care.points out Dr Tristan Cudennec.

Working in various structures, gerontologists work in conjunction with other medical and paramedical professions: physiotherapists, nurses, social workers, public health doctors, etc. They are not necessarily in the field of care or support and can therefore have very varied profiles and initial training: demographers, anthropologists, teacher-researchers, public health executives, etc.

Geriatrics and gerontology: complementary approaches serving the elderly

Through their research, gerontology and geriatrics contribute to a better understanding of issues related to aging, whether medical or part of a much broader context of political or social reflection.