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Your Older Loved One’s Greatest Health Risk?

As our loved ones grow older, we probably are more acutely protective of their health and well-being, especially if we are in the role of caregiver to that loved one.

We may even accompany them to a visit with their providers, or make a visit to the hospital is they are hospitalized

Which of the following do you think is the greatest threat to your older loved one’s life:
1. heart disease
2. cancer
3. chronic lower respiratory diseases
4. Alzheimer’s disease
5. Stroke
6. Ageism

If you checked heart disease, the U.S. Census bureau would say you’re right, and the rest of them in order are smaller, but significant risks as well. But ageism takes a largely unseen toll on older adults. In a longitudinal study of a large sample of older adults, those who had a positive perception of aging lived an average of 7.6 years longer than those who did not. Where did they get this impression that could result in an early death?

So, what constitutes ageism? One of the answers is in the care they receive from health care providers. If you are a caregiver who has accompanied mom or dad to a doctor’s visit, did you notice:
• How much did the doctor maintain eye contact with you versus your love one?
• How many times did anyone in the office refer to your older loved one as “dear?”
• How thorough was the exam versus what you, yourself may have experienced?
• How many additional tests were ordered for your loved one?

All of these are signs of ageism. And then there is the cascading of one effect amplifying another. The last one about testing is quantifiable. Medicare is going to pay for the tests, so less thought may be given to ordering tests. In a study in 2018 Yale researchers were able to document that ageism accounted for about $63 billion a year in unnecessary tests in the United States. More tests and they will die younger simply because they are given the impression they are older? Young people don’t need tests. Not just feel older, but less viable. Their age becomes a filter through which others view them and consequently treat them differently than folks who don’t have as many birthdays.

So, the next time you accompany your older loved one to the medical visit, try these responses to the above:
• Doctor, I am just here with mom/dad, please talk with her/him while I listen.
• His/Her name is _____ (fill in name)!
• Doctor, is it important to also check _____ (missing test or question)?
• Doctor, I don’t recall these tests in the past; why are they needed?

Charlotte Bishop is a Caregiver Coach, an Aging Life Care Advisor, a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.

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