Frequently, in the time of their lives when geriatric patients need the greatest stability is when most of the changes occur. Their spouses and their friends die and leave them alone and lonely. Illness, pain and suffering often become their constant companions. They lose their independence and sometimes their dignity. They lose part of their hearing and sight – things that connect them to the rest of the world. The strength and stamina that they once had are gradually but surely giving way to frailty and disability. There is a perception that society tends to ignore them at best, and often regards them as an expensive nuisance at worst. Thoughts of their own vulnerability and eventual mortality begin to increase.
These challenges are extremely difficult for many of our seniors and have an important influence on their physical and mental health and their overall sense of well being. Many of our geriatric patients somehow cope with these challenges fairly well, learning to adapt, adjust and accept the life they have been given with ease and grace. Others do not. It is no wonder that the risk of depression, anxiety, irritability and grief reactions increase dramatically in this age group.
The challenge for us in the medical profession is to understand what is happening in the lives of our individual elderly patients. What are they having to cope with at home or in the nursing home in which they reside? What is their relationship with their families? Are they able to afford or even remember to take their medications properly?
Our geriatric patients truly need our help, our patience and our support now more than ever before in their lives. Many of them are distressed in ways we cannot imagine. The expression of their anxiety makes itself known in different ways, sometimes directly by what they say, although others are often not listening, and sometimes indirectly by exacerbations of physical illness and/or mental strain.
How can we help? These folks certainly need treatment of their physical ailments to the best of our abilities, but much more than that, they need a friend. They need to be able to talk to someone who understands what they are going through, someone willing to listen. The kindness and understanding that we can show them is often more healing and more therapeutic than any medication we can give. Their chronic illnesses and their discomforts will not seem as severe if they know someone is there to do everything possible to help them. These efforts at least give them hope in the process if nothing else; although I like to believe there is a certain amount of healing that occurs in these encounters. Certainly, our respect, attention, concern for their welfare and our thoughtfulness along with our friendship and compassion mean a great deal to them.
Our reward for this is that they are eternally grateful, which, by any measurement of humanity, is not a small thing.
This page was last updated on October 20, 2019.