Senior Power: Choosing a Geriatrician

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Friday April 09, 2010 - 10:55:00 AM

“Beware of the young doctor and the old barber.” 

Benjamin Franklin (1706 - 1790) 

Geriatrics is the medical study of the physiology and pathology of old age; a geriatrician is an M.D. whose sub-specialty is care for people 65 and older. Gerontology is the scientific study of the biological, social and psychological aspects of aging. Geriatrician is to geriatrics as Gerontologist is to gerontology.  


It was Gail Sheehy who deduced that “Beyond the age of 21, apart from medical people who are interested only in our gradual decay, we are left to fend for ourselves on the way downstream to senescence, at which point we are picked up again by the gerontologists.” (Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life.) My conclusion: Beware the focus group and the surveyor who do not pay… cash. 


Geriatricians have been calling for inclusion of geriatric curriculum in the mainstream of American medical education. There are currently approximately 890 geriatricians in California, or one geriatrician per 4,000 Californians 65+ years of age.  


How does one go about locating an accessible geriatrician? Assuming one has a referral and an HMO (health maintenance organization) and so forth. It shouldn’t be necessary to take a yellow pages approach. It should be possible to learn in advance any physician’s credentials. Shoulda-coulda-woulda.  

One approach is to Google the American Medical Association: search its online “Doctor Finder for Patients” by physician specialty-- click on Geriatrics (a sub-specialty,) then state and city. There are 4 listed in Berkeley—interestingly, all are non-AMA members. None in Albany and Emeryville. The Alameda-Contra Costa Medical Association’s “Find a Physician” lists geriatric subspecialists. I suggest and  

For specific education, experience, and other information about a physician, try to locate her/his website, and don’t hesitate to phone the office and ask for the website’s location.  



Can you identify these senior citizens? (Answers at the end of Column):  


1. This labor rights activist retired from Herrick Hospital cooking to 

advocate for affordable senior housing, especially Section 8 rentals, and was active in the Strawberry Creek Lodge Tenants’ Association._______ 

2. In 1971 this activist, following forced retirement at age 65, convened the 

Gray Panthers to advocate for seniors’ rights. ____________________ 

3. 79 year old Berkeley resident Rosita Dolores Alverio, better known 

as_____________, was presented with an award by the National Osteoporosis Foundation for her work raising awareness.  

4. Although regarded by some as an “office worker,” she began ringing the 

UC, Berkeley Sather Tower bells in 1923 and continued until retirement 50 years later. _______________________________________ 

5. The former Berkeley mayor (1994-1902) who issued an Older  

Americans Month Proclamation. _______________________________ 




Recently I visited 2 especially interesting sites. On March 25 I was at the Albany Senior Center for the Seniors’ Resource Fair, the best I’ve attended, possibly one of the reasons savvy seniors ‘shop around’ among senior centers. And on the 29th, I visited Strawberry Creek Lodge affordable and low-income senior housing to interview seniors for an upcoming SENIOR POWER column. Strawberry is a unique ambience. The Lodgers are collegial people who publish their own Tenants’ Association newsletter. Bicycles abound, and a City CarShare vehicle was parked in the lot. Meals optional. Bulletin boards everywhere, freely accessible to all. The front door ‘greeter’ is watchful and helpful.  




For your consideration:  

“New Resources on Aging” is a great online newsletter from the Resource Center on Aging, University of California at Berkeley. To subscribe: ; put “subscribe newsletter” on the subject line.  




When: April 11-17, 2010 

What: National Library Week observed nationally  

Where: Fill out Berkeley Public Library Customer Satisfaction survey at any Info or Reference Desk or .  

For more info: (510) 981-6100. 


When: Opening April 11. Regular hours, Thursday-Saturday. 1-4 PM  

What: “WPA 75th Anniversary in Berkeley” exhibit  

Where: Berkeley History Center, 1931 Center St. 

For more info: (510) 848-0181  




1. Helen Corbin Lima (1917-2005). 2. Margaret “Maggie” Eliza Kuhn (1905-1995). 

3.Rita Moreno. 4. Margaret Murdock (1894-1985). 5. Shirley Dean 


Helen Rippier Wheeler can be reached at