Are the Elderly a Vulnerable Population?
The elderly in America are considered to be a vulnerable population in regards to health and wellness and provision of healthcare. While this consideration may sometimes be based on assumptions related to age and wellness, or lack of, there are increased risk factors that do place a majority of this population at a higher risk for illness and injury. There are also false images correlated to age, poor health, and thoughts of decreased satisfaction of life, however in order to change that view of health of the elderly, it is important to recognize which aspects are actual risks and provide healthcare and education in order to confront and manage those risks, and to provide the highest quality of living possible for this ever increasing population.
The term elderly can be defined in many ways. For the purposes of this paper the term will be used to encompass those 65 years of age or greater. According to the 2000 United States Census, 35.0 million people 65 years of age and over were counted in the United States (www.census.gov). This represents 12.4 % of the population. While this census did not show an increase in the percentage of the number of adults older than 65 years in the United States, it is the first time in history there has not been an increase, and it did show the highest growth in the number of adults over the age of 85. The numbers are expected to continue to rise, with more people living longer. What does all this information mean? Simply that the United States has historically had an increase in its elderly population and the prospectus is that this number will continue to grow.
The elderly have often been viewed as being frail just because they are elderly. This is a common thought and one I have been exposed to as well as probably thought myself. I have made assumptions that a patient’s quality of life was lacking, simply based on the patient’s age. When I have seen a surgeon contemplating a procedure on a 90 year old, I have said to myself, “What’s the point?” There is often a common thought that there is a complete lack of health and well being once one reaches a certain age. The idea of living well, stamina, virility, and good health often go hand in hand with youth. Often elderly patients are not offered the same treatments or options as their younger counterparts are. There is sometimes a thought that if a patient is over a certain age, they have lived their lives and should just die and not continue to try to find treatments for any ailments or illnesses they may have. There is a general non-appreciation for the elderly of the United States. We are a country that does not take very good care of our elderly, often disregarding their healthcare and placing an increased number of them in nursing homes.
There are risk factors that come along with age, however, that can affect one’s health including: decreased mobility, increased incidence of chronic disease, possible social isolation, financial decline related to voluntary or involuntary retirement, nutritional needs, and a host of age related changes and illnesses that affect this group. They may have had significant emotional losses, such as that of a spouse or home or other drastic changes that affect and change their previous lives and views of self. The elderly are more likely to suffer from falls, burns, car accidents, social isolation, abuse, and are more likely to fall victim to numerous diseases (Potter & Perry, 2001). There are also a lack of resources available to the elderly to help them manage or deal with these issues. While these risk factors can have a drastic affect on one’s quality of life, many of them can be managed, and/or prevented. The key to providing optimum care to this cliental is recognizing the actual risk factors and tailoring healthcare and education towards the elderly patient. It is therefore, important to, recognize these risks, and address them while also acknowledging any biases.
After researching the different risks and challenges the elderly face, I realize there is an important and urgent need to provide healthcare, education, and resources for this population. It is also apparent that quality of life is a very complex idea and is not based solely on the number of years one has lived. An individual should retain rights, dignity, and respect regardless of his or her age. Just because a patient is 89 years old, does not mean they are not a candidate for surgery or treatment, just as the same should be said for a patient of any age. For instance a 22 year old may or may not be a candidate for a kidney transplant, but this is decided based on many factors other than age. While it is realistic to take into account a patient’s age when deciding on the treatment and care plan, it is not and should not be the only determining factor.
The geriatric patient needs to be provided the best education possible from healthcare providers, while also identifying resources that are available to assist with the patient’s life outside of the healthcare facility. A patient is more likely to return to the previous level of function, if thorough and complete education has been provided (LeMone & Burke, 2000). This idea and practice is one that should be taught and encouraged to all healthcare providers. The nurse must advocate for appropriate and quality care for his or her geriatric patients. When all providers, nurses, and assistive personnel, have this goal in mind, it will be reflected in the overall health of the geriatric population.
While the general person over the age of 65 faces unique challenges, they also benefit from unique and rewarding experiences and knowledge. There are risks faced by the geriatric patient strictly due to their age, but if these risks are addressed and managed correctly, it is possible for many older adults to lead a healthy and fulfilling life. For many years growing old has been something to hide and not revel in. It meant the end of one’s career, changes in lifestyle, and ultimately the end of one’s life. With changes in education and healthcare towards healthy living throughout one’s lifetime, these previous assumptions and stereotypes can be changed. Medical and technological advances will lead to longer lives of better quality.What society will be left with is a culture that celebrates it’s elders and puts emphasis on quality of life at any age. Retirement years can truly be thought of as a relaxing and wonderful time, full of vibrant, lively activity and good health and living into the later years of life.
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