GERIATRIC PSYCHIATRY, also known as Geropsychiatry, is a subspecialty of Psychiatry focusing on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental health disorders in older adults. Such disorders commonly include dementia, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, suicidality, and late-life addiction. Geriatric Psychiatrists often deal with complex medical issues that manifest in psychiatric illness such as Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, vascular disease, and Lewy Body dementia. Geropsychiatrists complete four years of medical school followed by four years of Psychiatry residency and one year of Geriatric Psychiatry fellowship. Geriatric Psychiatrists who attain the highest level of accreditation may become Board Certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology with a subspecialty certificate in Geriatric Psychiatry. Geriatric Psychiatrists work in a variety of settings including private practices, skilled nursing facilities, adult care centers, and hospitals where they offer treatment via counseling, psychotherapy, hospitalization, and psychiatric medications.
As the U.S. population ages, forensic mental health issues have become more common and many Geriatric Psychiatrists perform forensic work by assisting courts in determining cognitive ability, mental capacity for decision making, and competency to give informed consent. To make these weighty determinations, Geriatric Psychiatrists (and Geriatric Forensic Psychiatrists) must consider underlying medical conditions, psychiatric issues, neurological diseases such as dementia, cognitive and sensory impairment, medications (polypharmacy), and neuropsychological testing. Such determinations come into play when evaluating a person’s mental capacity for end-of-life decisions, wills, codicils, guardianship, power of attorney, and other late-life situations. Medical negligence claims against Geriatric Psychiatrists are infrequent, but may stem from complications of treatment (e.g. tardive dyskinesia), failure to stabilize depressive symptoms, and inappropriate determinations regarding mental capacity.