Tips for Caring for the Elderly Individual

In a recent post, I discussed my father’s experience through the years with the VA (Veterans Administration).   As an add on, I thought I would share some recent observations from the side of the elderly patient and family.

My father is elderly. The word elderly is new to my vocabulary. I never thought I would see the day that I would use that word in reference to my parents. It is a tough reality to face.

I recently accompanied my father to a consultation in a private clinic in Central Florida. To my dismay, I witnessed a clerk attempt to talk to and treat my father like a small, incapable child. Knowing the bright man that my father is, I was insulted at the way he was treated.

The elderly population will continue to see an increase as baby boomers retire and with improved treatments and medications for chronic diseases, life expectancy increases. As we see an increase in this population, how can we best serve this special group of patients at the bedside?

Understand

Understand that the if we are all fortunate enough, we might one day too live to see the golden years. To live as long is to have loved, learned, and lost. Great wisdom comes with age. Understand that an elderly individual does not see an old person when looking in the mirror. Instead, he or she sees the vibrant young individual he or she once was. Have a little empathy for the individual who is facing end of life decisions and realities. None of us are immune to this reality.

Respect

An elderly individual deserves dignity and respect. Using terms like honey or sweetie is simply disrespectful. Speaking to an elderly individual as if he or she is incapable of understanding anything after living a full life is disrespectful. You may need to speak louder to be heard, but watch your tone is these moments.

Take Your Time

With age, everything is more challenging. Elderly individuals move a little slower. They have a harder time hearing and seeing. Allow them the time needed to speak. Allow the time needed to hear. Allow the time needed to understand. Take time when the patient talks to you. Be patient.

Encourage Autonomy

One of the biggest fears for elderly individuals, I imagine, aside from death is the loss of autonomy. Just because someone is older, does not mean they have forfeited the right to make decisions for themselves. Encourage a patient’s autonomy in every way whether through their activities of daily living or how they prefer to take their pills.

Our elderly population should be revered not demeaned or disregarded. Hear them. Respect them. Support them. Encourage them. Learn from them.

Lori is an American nurse and yogini living in Gothenburg, Sweden. She contributes regularly to Mighty Nurse, AWHONN, American Nurse Today, and has been featured in The Huffington Post. Follow her adventures through her blog, Neonurse, or on Instagram.

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