In the past month I have had the opportunity to accompany my parents to physician appointments and be part of their health updates. Even though, I was invited into the room by them, I was in no way in charge. My parents are very capable of making their own decisions, but appreciate having one of their daughters present as moral support. And in the event that we will have to be part of their decision making process we will be apprised of their health status.
At one appointment, as the physician entered the room he greeted my parents first and directed all of his remarks to them. I was so appreciative of that courtesy. The fact that my parents are getting older does not mean they should be slighted in any way and be treated in a patronizing manner.
That was not the case when I was helping with another family member out of state a few weeks ago. I drove and accompanied my family member to see her husband in a Rehab facility during my week long stay and helped with the process of transitioning both of them to an assisted living facility. During this time I found people directing the conversations to me and essentially ignoring my family members. At one point my in-law scolded the nurse and said, “you look at me…I am the one who will be living here, not her.” I thought that the nurse deserved that rebuke and hopefully she will change her approach when dealing with older patients and their families.
Treating patients of all ages with respect is important, but it is especially important when dealing with older people. At a time when many of the changes in their lives are beyond their control, genuine respect can help make them feel valued and a part of the decision making. Even if there are memory issues with older people, that is not a good enough reason to ignore them or treat them in a condescending way.
Here are some tips for all health care workers in dealing with older patients:
- Refrain from calling them “honey”or “dear” or other patronizing terms… it’s insulting.
- Address patients formally…Mr., Mrs., Ms. until you have been invited to call them by their first name.
- Make direct eye contact with the patient when speaking to them.
- Be careful not to speak too loudly that everyone within a mile can hear you.
- Maintain personal privacy, as much as possible, when doing procedures or assisting with personal care.
Remember, this older person had a life before their illness and was a contributing member of society in their job, as a spouse, parent and grandparent…that should always be honored.