Americans are living longer than ever before, but many older Americans could better deal with their health problems, according to the Institute for Healthcare Advancement (IHA). To help the elderly stay healthier longer, the IHA has identified the 10 most common mistakes older Americans make in caring for their health.
The Institute is a non-profit organization based in La Habra, California, that demonstrates innovative health care practices and educates health care professionals and consumers.
The IHA's 10 most common health care mistakes made by the elderly are:
- Driving when it's no longer safe
The elderly often associate mobility in a car with their independence, but knowing when it is time to stop driving is important for the safety of everyone on the road. Decisions about when to stop driving should be made together with a family physician because chronological age alone does not determine someone's fitness to drive.
- Fighting the aging process and its appearance
Refusing to wear a hearing aid, eyeglasses or dentures, and reluctance to ask for help or to use walking aids are all examples of this type of denial. This behavior may prevent the senior from obtaining helpful assistance with some of the problems of aging.
- Reluctance to discuss intimate health problems with the doctor or health care provider
Older Americans may not want to bring up sexual or urinary difficulties. Sometimes problems that the individual thinks are trivial, such as stomach upsets, constipation, or jaw pain, may require further evaluation.
- Not understanding what the doctor told them about their health problem or medical treatment plan
"I could not understand the doctor," or "He told me what to do, but you know me, I can't remember what he said'š" are typical complaints. Reluctance to ask the doctor to repeat information or to admit that they do not understand what is being said can result in serious health consequences.
- Disregarding the serious potential for a fall
Falls result in fractures and painful injuries, which sometimes take months to heal. To help guard against falling, the elderly should remove scatter rugs from the home and have adequate lighting in the home and work areas. They should wear sturdy and well-fitting shoes, and watch for slopes and cracks in sidewalks. Participating in exercise programs to improve muscle tone and strength is also helpful.
- Failure to have a system or a plan for managing medicines
Missed medication doses can result in inadequate treatment of a medical condition. By using daily schedules, pill box reminders or check-off records, seniors can avoid missing medication doses. Because health care providers need to know all of the medicines that an elderly patient is taking, patients should maintain a complete list of all their prescription and over-the-counter medicines, including dose and the reason that the medicine is being taken.
- Not having a single primary care physician who looks at the overall medical plan of treatment
Health problems may be overlooked when a senior goes to several different doctors or treatment programs, and multiple treatment regimens may cause adverse responses. The patient may be over- or under-treated if a single physician is not evaluating the full medical treatment program.
- Not seeking medical attention when early possible warning signs occur
Reasons for such inaction and denial may include lack of money or reduced self worth due to age. "I am so old it doesn't matter anymore." Of course, such treatment delays can result in a more advanced stage of illness and a poorer prognosis.
- Failure to participate in prevention programs
Flu and pneumonia shots, routine breast and prostate exams are examples of readily available preventive health measures that seniors should utilize to remain healthy.
- Not asking loved ones for help
Many older Americans are simply too stubborn to ask for help, whether due to an understandable need for independence or because of early signs of dementia. It's important that elderly people alert family members or other loved ones to any signs of ill health or unusual feelings so that they can be assessed before the problem advances.
In an effort to help older Americans become less fearful of medical conditions and more empowered about their health, the IHA has published What To Do For Senior Health, an easy-to-understand, self-help medical book for senior citizens. For more information or to order the book, call (800) 434-4633 or go to www.iha4health.org.