By Andrea K. Hammer
With the elderly living into their 80s and beyond, greater sensitivity is needed for their long-term care.
Health care professionals are facing their own intense pressures–from malpractice suits to over-scheduling and “corporate” re-organization. Despite these complex issues, patients still need undivided–and compassionate–attention.
A doctor’s appointment is generally an unsettling event for those of any age. However, frail seniors who have lost their independence are more vulnerable to thoughtless insensitivity.
Herculean Effort to Arrive at Doctor’s Office
First, it is important to grasp the herculean effort required to arrive at a doctor’s office. For patients with high blood pressure, the added strain of scheduling a wheelchair van, hoping it will arrive on time and calling up small traces of energy to maneuver through barriers from points A to Z will send the numbers off the charts.
When seniors finally arrive for a doctor’s appointment, their existing aches and pains have been multiplied by the ordeal. Sitting in a wheelchair–or anywhere–is uncomfortable, so delays or overly extended appointments intensify the discomfort.
Nurses Set Tone for Doctor’s Appointment
Nurses greeting patients and their family members often set the tone for the appointment. Horrified questions like “You lost so much weight–are you eating?” or “What happened to your walking?” add insult to injury. Instead, gently search for the underlying reasons for any visible changes and explore if adjustments will help.
If an elderly patient hasn’t eaten breakfast or lunch to complete blood work, complete this step first. For a diabetic patient, waiting to eat until mid-afternoon is a severe strain on the body. A family member should not need to offer this reminder.
Direct Interaction Needed With Seniors Vs. Relatives
When you are asking questions, address and interact with seniors rather than their relatives. You are discussing their bodies, and they are the ones living with their ailments. Remember, they are present in the room, with their own thoughts and feelings.
If you need to type notes into a computer, take the time to look directly at an elderly person. When you stare at the screen constantly, any patient–and particularly seniors–will get increasingly upset about not feeling heard or understood. Extend basic courtesy and respect.
Allow seniors to describe health problems in their own way and order. Rather than following a rigid and extended line of questioning for more than an hour, permit seniors to express the most pressing issues on their mind. Do not silence or dismiss them when they try to speak, which leaves them feeling like a child.
Attention to Concerns About Broken Health Care System
When an elderly person asks about coverage for assisted living, don’t shrug and say, “We’ll talk about that later or in the future.” If a point of concern is raised, the issue needs to be addressed now.
Patients and their families completely understand that health care professionals are only human. We see that you are dealing with your own health problems. We know that answers are not always available.
However, in a broken health care system that does not account for the long-term care of the elderly, help us find solutions rather than leaving us nowhere to turn.