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Caring For Elderly Patients

Working with the elderly can actually be quite intimidating, whether you are a doctor, a nurse or have one of many medical assistant jobs.

The elderly can often respond to us in ways that are unfamiliar, especially if we are dealing with people who are ill as well.

In this article, I will discuss some of the top issues that are motivating the elderly in how they respond to people, so that you can better understand what might be going on in their thinking and how to respond to it appropriately.

First, the elderly are often defensive of their “sense of self”, so to speak. Think of how our lives work. We spend our childhood training to be adults and our early adulthood trying to establish ourselves and the kind of life that we want to lead.

Then, if we are successful, we get to live that live for about twenty or thirty years before it is systematically stripped away. The elderly are often at the last stage of this process, where everything is being stripped away systematically.

As a result, the elderly can be very protective of things that, to us, might not seem to make any sense. A daily walk, for example, can be an extremely important part of an elderly person’s sense of self, if only because it is something that has been done for years.

In a health-care context, the addition of disease adds to this overall effect. The problem isn’t so much that the disease is uncomfortable (it can be), but that it further erodes this self-erosion that characterizes the aging process.

As a result, it is often good not so much to focus on the disease (which can just serve as a remind), but on treating the patient by-and-large like he or she is not diseased. This decreases the sense for the patient that he or she is having the self stripped away.

Instead, allow the family (if available) be the primary emotional support. Since they are a part of the elderly’s previous life, they will form the continuity that they need.

by Lindsay Schloss

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