Recently we did a workshop/seminar for several local churches. During the question period one of the women raised her hand and said, “When I went to my doctor a few months ago with pain in my leg, he said it was just part of getting old and nothing could be done about it. He wouldn’t listen, I thought he just didn’t want to be bothered with me.” She asked us what she could do.
This week we took one of our clients to see their doctor to review some medications. Two of her friends came with us. In that appointment, one of the friends, a genuinely loving and caring individual, had a long conversation with the doctor talking about the client as though she were not there. The doctor participated in this kind of interaction, even though we tried to model a different approach by talking to the client about what her symptoms were, and why we were there, and what we wanted to accomplish. The doctor and friends heard it just as clearly, but
and by addressing our client, we included her in the conversation and insured that the meeting went at her pace.
It is common for older people to have the experience of being shunted aside, talked about, and treated disrespectfully. Decisions are often made about them, “in their best interests” even though they have some capacity–and maybe it is minimal–to understand the nature and consequences of the issue and the courses of action proposed.
In our view, no matter how old a person is, they still have rights. We call these the Rights of the Aging. You have the right to:
- Be valued as an individual.
- A physician who is knowledgeable about geriatric medicine.
- A diagnosis for a problem.
- Information about your treatments and medications.
- Be spoken to, not about.
- Be treated as an adult, not a child.
- Live at risk if you have the capacity to make that decision.
- Be consulted about decisions that affect you in any way
- Have an advocate of your choice by your side.
- Make decisions about yourself for as long as you are able to be competent to do so and understand the nature and affects of that decision.
- Determine who will make decisions for you and in what situation when you are no longer able to do so. Make advance directives and have them carried out.
“Old Age is Description. It is not a diagnosis!”
If a 30 year old man were to walk into the doctor’s office to discuss pain, memory loss, confusion, slowness in movements, most likely the doctor would consider a number of diagnoses and do some test.
However, if fifty years later that same man were to walk in to the doctor’s office with the same complaints, it is more than possible that the doctor would say, “well, what do you expect, it’s just old age.”
The problem is that “old age” is a description, it is not a diagnosis. It does not tell you why you are having pain, confusion, or other symptoms. When you hear “it is just old age,” or something similar, what you are being told is that the practitioner is washing his or her hands of your situation. Sometimes, for various symptoms, a full and invasive investigation would be more than the elderly person would want or could physically tolerate. It may happen that whatever is suspected, the investigation or treatment would be dangerous and kill the patient. However, at least you have a right to know why something is happening, or even why an investigation is not recommended. Then you also have the right to be informed about alternative treatments which may fall outside the scope of general western medicine–naturopath, acupuncture, medical marijuana, osteopaths. This is not to say that a physician should be recommending something they are not comfortable with, but somehow, the information needs to be made available.
So, if you hear “it’s just old age,” that’s a signal that you need to start asking more questions and become your own advocate.