I have started writing a series for The Dignity Foundation – an organization focused on senior citizens. Here is the first in the series that got published in the September issue of their magazine.
The best gift that we can give ourselves and our families is to live in good health until we leave this planet. As someone with several senior citizen relatives including some near and dear ones, i want to highlight some observations that i have collected about Elder Care.
To my utter shock and dismay, i find 2 broad patterns of behavior from doctors when it comes to treating senior citizens. And I am talking about doctors from reputed hospitals. One pattern is – doctors don’t seem to order basic diagnostic tests that are necessary, possibly under the pretext of saving money or because they have not kept themselves updated about the latest diagnostic tools and techniques. The other pattern is – doctors order surgical procedures aggressively when other treatment options are available. Let me explain with some pertinent examples.
One of my senior citizen relatives recently started having blurred vision in one of the eyes. The doctor diagnosed it correctly as a damage to the retina due to high blood pressure and left it at prescribing some medication for hypertension. Another doctor was consulted for a second opinion and that doctor immediately ordered an angiogram and it showed that there were some blocks in the arteries in the heart. Armed with this information, consulted another opthalmologist, who decided to order an Eye Angiogram. It showed the areas that are damaged in the retina precisely. I didn’t know such a test was available and i was impressed by the doctor who ordered it. With the results from both the Eye Angiogram and the Heart Angiogram, sufficient information was available to create a proper treatment plan. Why didn’t the first doctor order these tests?
In another instance, we took a senior citizen relative, who was complaining of a painful inflammation in the anal tract, to a reputed hospital. Several specialists got involved and they recommended an emergency surgery to fix the problem. We then took a second opinion from another doctor who simply gave some medication and the inflammation dissappeared in a few days. I shudder to think what complications could have arisen if the surgery had been done.
There are many such examples i have noted which led me to the conclusion that there are serious issues with elder care in this country. My advice to elders, please try to understand what health condition you have and ask your doctor to explain the diagnosis and the course of treatment. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you don’t get convincing answers, go to another doctor. Do some research on the Internet about the illness and be armed with information so that you can have a meaningful dialogue with your doctor. Your health is too important to be left to the experts.
Although, it is easy to blame the doctors for these problems, i find that many elders have abysmal awareness about health issues. Many even hold outdated views such as:
– “In my family, there is no history of XYZ illness, so i will never get it”.
– “Oh! I am 70 years old, i am expected to have these problems, right?”
Everyone will agree that early detection of illnesses is critically important in effective cures and in the case of elders, this is even more important. Here are some basic tips I strongly recommend that all elders follow:
1. Be very aware of your body – how much time you sleep, how many times you pass stools, urine – the consistency, color etc of the stools, urine. Frequently monitor these to make sure there are no dramatic changes in either the frequency or the color/consistency etc.
2. Check your weight atleast once a week and note it down to identify any sudden deviations.
3. Check your blood pressure frequently
4. Once a year do a master health check that includes your eyesight. If that is expensive, talk to your doctor about ordering some basic tests that are inexpensive but help you monitor the critical indicators.
Next month, we will cover how to research health issues on the Internet. Stay tuned.