Top tips for discussion points with elderly patients

Updated on December 16, 2020

As someone working in healthcare, you often come across patients who are elderly and require help. This is where it is important to be really thoughtful about their needs, and how you can help them adjust to a changing situation. These are the top tips for things to discuss with elderly patients during times like these:

1. Dealing with coronavirus

Of course, COVID-19 is the number one consideration on many patients’ minds. They may be thinking about what they are able to do until the vaccine comes fully into place. For example, can they go visit family, or can their relatives visit them? Or are they able to go outside and pursue any hobbies they might have? These are all important considerations during this time, and you should humor the questions while being clear and vocal about the fact that nothing is certain when it comes to the virus, and the best thing people can do is act cautiously. This kind of rhetoric may be frustrating for patients who want certainty, but over time if you are firm, they may come to respect what you are saying and no longer pester you for answers you do not have. 

2. How the vaccine changes things

The vaccine coming into place following the actions of Anthony Fauci has changed what a lot of people feel able to do. A lot of patients will likely be asking about when they can get the vaccine, and indeed whether they count as vulnerable enough to need it soon. They will have questions about whether once they have it, they are free to do anything – and indeed, the answer is likely that having the first vaccine is not enough – they will need the second vaccine before long, and indeed need a break of a few weeks until they are fully protected. You may have to break it to some patients that getting a vaccine will not be the cure-all.

3. Care in old age

Retirement homes have become a topic of conversation during COVID-19. A lot of elderly patients and their families can depend on doctors for advice around what kind of setting they should live in and what kind of care they need. Of course in some cases, family are perfectly capable of providing that care, or someone may not need very much help. However, in others, elderly relatives may need some sort of live-in care or someone who can check in on them around the clock. In others, they may just be in need of a community where someone can take care of them whenever necessary, such as a retirement home that is listed on Frontier Management.

4. Retirement homes

Being knowledgeable about retirement homes and the needs of the person in question is helpful in such situations because it can help with giving advice that is tailored to the person’s needs. For example, if they do not seem to be losing any senses, and seem to have their full faculties, you may not advise that they need much help. Yet, if they need a lot of physical and psychological support, it might be better to move them somewhere where they can be better taken care of. Often medical needs do overlap with the setting in which they find themselves, so it is likely your advice can be of help.

5. Looking after finances

Another thing you may want to discuss with aging patients is the status of their finances. Now this might seem like a personal thing that you do not want to get too involved with – and indeed it is something which you should keep at arm’s length. However, from a pastoral point of view it is good to check that they have things like a pension and medical insurance paid in advance to keep them going through old age. This will affect things like whether you advise them to retire and take time off work.

6. Wills and inheritance

Similarly, if you know they are nearing the end of life, you will need to make this clear to them in the event they need to sort out things like a will and inheritance. All these things need to be sorted out in advance, so that their assets do not get seized by the state, depending on where they live. It may even be the case that they are not capable of signing off on certain things such as their will, or that they do not have their full wits and faculties about them – in which case it is most sensible to discuss with them whether there is someone else in their family who can take on the role.

7. Their plans for retirement

If a patient seems to be tired out, you may want to discuss with them the possibility of cutting back on their work as they get older, or even retiring. Patients are not always keen to do this kind of thing, which is why it can be worth discussing with them their plans for retirement, and what age they planned to retire at. It may be that they have hobbies they want to take up, or even that they wanted to take a round-the-world trip (which you may have to discuss with them if you feel it would be too strenuous given their health). 

Overall, it can be tricky as a health professional to know what to do, especially during COVID-19. So much is under flux, and yet more than ever, there’s a lot expected of you – with you sometimes having to step into a caring or pastoral role, rather than just dong your job description. You shouldn’t feel pressured to overstep the mark – but it is worth thinking about the fact that you are there to care for your patients, and why you joined your job. It is likely that you did so to make a difference in people’s lives, and therefore being able to think about these questions that patients might ask, and doing your best to help, will be useful. 

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