Walking a Mile in Their Shoes: Becoming a Better Caregiver to the Elderly

July 3rd, 2012

Whether you work in clinic, a senior residential community, as an LVN or as any other type of healthcare professional, you’re eventually going to be caring for the elderly.

The elderly have it tough. The screen legend, Bette Davis, famously said “old age is no place for sissies”, and she was correct beyond what anyone who isn’t old to know of her can comprehend.

What we lose is mindboggling.  Let us just give you an inkling of how much that is:

  • The loss of mobility (driving or even simple walking).
  • The loss of family and loved ones.
  • The loss of hearing or of sight.
  • The loss of vitality

Many experts believe the main “task” of aging is to navigate all of these losses with grace and acceptance. Not an easy thing for anyone to do.

Some other less-thought-about  losses that will occur are the loss of certain abilities, such as multi-tasking or transitioning from one activity or thought to another.  Anyone who has worked with senior patients will have noticed this.

These losses are also part of the aging process.

Author Anya Martin interviewed neuroscientist Dr. Adam Gazzaley in the March/April 2012 issue of Senior Living Executive about the study he conducted regarding adults aged 60-80 and their ability to re-engage after a distraction.

Dr. Gazzeley found that older adults do, indeed, have a tougher time with this transition than young adults (ages 18-22).  In fact, these difficulties “corresponded to changes that could be seen visually in MRI scans of their brains,” he said in the article.

What this means for you, in a nutshell, is to cut your elderly patients considerable slack. Imagine yourself in a few years with your own slow decline in the ability to transition and “recover” from one task to another.

Read below for some additional tips on how to better compensate for this difficulty with your senior patients:

  • Give the patient a head’s up that the task or activity will be changing soon. For example, let the patient know that lunch will be done in 15 minutes,  and then the two of you will be heading back to his or her room. Remind the patient again when lunch is finally over.
  • Try not to talk to patients while they’re watching television. You may be able to watch television, talk on the phone and type an email at the same time. Your 84-year-old patient probably can’t. Ask the patient to turn the TV off if you have something important to say. Don’t talk over another conversation that’s going on nearby; move to a quieter spot in the room. Just remember that it’s best to do or say one thing at a time with your senior patients.
  • Remember that the patient very well may have heard you but isn’t responding or doing what you want right away because he or she is processing your request.  Many times this delay is assumed to be a level of obstinance that is just not there.  The patient is not being bullheaded; he/she is struggling to process the information.

We hope you’re finding our Snelling Medical Blog helpful as you undertake the important work of caring for your patients. Please bookmark this blog and return each week for more tips and strategies. For more information on the opportunities in healthcare we offer, check out information for our Medical Candidates.

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