When I was returning from a trip to Bellingham Monday to help my older sister, I listened to a program on Fresh Air, a National Public Radio program, about why new ways of thinking about medical problems in elders need to be considered. It really struck a chord with me, because I help my sister with her medical issues.
Louise Aronson, M.D., talked about her book “Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life.” Aronson said elderly people react differently to medications, even over-the-counter ones, and the medical community often doesn’t take into consideration this possibility when elders are having problems.
She described a situation that happened to her father. He was doing well for a number of years after heart surgery, but then he fainted. In the hospital, his blood pressure dropped, and the staff gave him medication, but then, it dropped again. More medication was given, but it dropped a third time. Aronson went through the list of things that could have been wrong and thought he might be bleeding internally. She tried to get the staff’s attention but was unable to get them to act. She asked her dad if she could do a rectal exam. A doctor, too, he said yes. When she showed the staff the bloody glove, her father was rushed to the ICU, then to surgery.
Aronson said when an elderly person comes in with a problem, it’s likely to be something in addition to the several other problems that already have been diagnosed. It doesn’t work when working with the elderly to be thinking about one diagnosis that will be the answer.
Aronson, a geriatrician, said more geriatricians are needed, adding that there are many more pediatricians, although elders are hospitalized much more frequently.
For more information on Terry Gross’s Fresh Air interview see “A Clearer Map for Aging: ‘Elderhood’ Shows How Geriatricians Help Seniors Thrive.” You can listen to the program, which is nearly an hour-long or read a transcript.