(Courtesy of the National Care Planning Council, http://www.longtermcarelink.net)
A 71 year old woman has surgery on her shoulder for a bone spur that is causing her considerable pain. The surgery is successful and she goes through several months of physical therapy to help her recover. But she is not recovering as expected. She continues to experience pain that radiates through her entire back. Her physical therapist does not know how to help her and attributes her failure to recover to old age.
She visits her family care doctor at least twice over the next six months, complaining of extreme tiredness and lack of energy. He tells her to exercise patience. He tells her that older people generally don’t recover as quickly from major surgery as younger people do. She should expect to be tired as surgery can have a major effect on the elderly.
Her skin color is gray and she does not look healthy. Finally she visits her doctor once again and insists he check her for some problem since she is not recovering from the surgery and she feels awful.
Based on her insistence, he does blood labs and discovers she is severely anemic. He puts her in outpatient care and gives her four units of red blood cells and puts her on iron supplementation. Within two weeks the pain has disappeared and within a month she has recovered fully from the surgery. Numerous tests are done but there is no explanation for the anemia.
Six months later she is healthy and active and her cheeks are ruddy. When she asks her doctor why he did not suspect anemia, he tells her that she has never had anemia and based on her history he would never expect her to develop it. He then tells her, in an obvious contradiction of his previous position that older people sometimes fail to absorb iron. If this had been a young person, the doctor would have likely suspected that something else was wrong and conducted the tests. Because this was an older person, the doctor assumed failure to recover was due to old age.
A Holistic Treatment Approach
Most practitioners who specialize in medical care for the elderly are aware of the above-mentioned problems with older patients and they take a holistic approach with the medical treatment of their patients. An attempt is made, not only to treat the specific condition or conditions, but to make sure there is sufficient physical activity, proper nutrition and family support at home. Practitioners work closely with family members to make sure their loved ones are taking medications properly and are reporting their symptoms.
Geriatric-oriented practitioners require caregivers to closely monitor health conditions in their loved ones and report any changes before things get worse. These providers also meet with their patients regularly enough to monitor, on their own, their patient’s current health.
This broad-based approach results in better health, more functionality and fewer visits to the emergency room because intervention for a worsening condition is achieved at an earlier stage.