The good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease.
Older adults 55 and over worries about health and financial concerns and whether they can afford to pay for what they need to stay well and in good physical and mental shape. Most consumers, measure multiple aspects of well-being when evaluating their health. They depend on a variety of motivators like exercise, wellness check-ups, medical screenings, good nutrition, and social connections to stay happy and healthy.
Older patients understand that it takes effort to stay healthy and they prefer all aspects of their health considered when treated, and not only the sick body.
When medical teams treat the whole patient, which involves the food, physical activity, the medications, the care at home and the attention given by a doctor, the patient can participate more thoroughly in their care plan. Feeling and being understood completely by the medical team, motivates patients to participate more actively. I hear it all the time by members in my Facebook elder orphan group, they don’t feel the doctor understands the hard work they put into staying healthy, nor do they feel the doctor understands their life circumstances.
The latest elder orphan research confirms their feelings. The research geriatricians, believe that a patient’s living situation and circumstances should be part of an assessment in addition to the self-care. For example, the physician should learn about a patient’s living situation and whether they have someone at home to look after them when ill.
The researcher claim that most professionals and health care providers ignore the living situation altogether. However, aging at home alone, physically isolated, with very limited support, it leaves a patient vulnerable to high risks, getting little help with activities of daily living, and certainly no one around to give personal care.
Treating the whole patient involves all aspects of a person and whether one has the proper care at home to heal properly. It’s also significant for the individual to feel empowered to make informed decisions, not just receive instructions on how to follow a care plan. The process requires an understanding of the consumer preferences and their needs based on life circumstances.
The elder orphan research found that the care for older adults, especially those with little support, needs to stretch beyond a physician's office and reach into the local community services for help as well.
We need to develop more community-based aging resources and adult day care centers for social support offering a goal of preventing avoidable hospital admissions. Older patients also need multidisciplinary teams that offer medical, functional, social, and safety services.
A care coordination effort at the local level where older adults live will decrease healthcare costs and increase patient care outcomes. If medical centers could be nearby patients in the community, that would offset patient hardship like driving a distance to see a doctor.
Or how about relieving the patient’s need to drive anywhere? Could the care facilities have smart patient-care technology that allows the team to monitor the individual from home? The featured care could include prevention, mental health, diabetes, wound, hypertension management and programs, and more.
This type of service goes beyond viewing health care as treating a sick patient and addresses the needs of those aging alone.
Since there are close to 30 percent of individuals 65 and over who grow older alone, let’s not assume their needs are the same as those having nearby support. In your community, how can you, the senior service organization, do a better job to help elder orphans remain at home for as long as they can?
- By Carol Marak
Carol Marak, aging advocate, syndicated columnist, and editor at Seniorcare.com. She earned a Certificate in the Fundamentals of Gerontology from UC Davis, School of Gerontology. Carol ages alone and shares her experiences with followers via Next Avenue, Huffington Post, and over 40 newspapers nationwide.
“Elder Orphans Hiding in Plain Sight: A Growing Vulnerable Population,” Current Gerontology and Geriatrics Research, Volume 2016 (2016), Article ID 4723250.