Describe the main differences in the ways that older people may present with health problems, as compared with younger adults.
• Identify distinctive aspects of quality care in assessing and managing the health needs of older people.
• Demonstrate an understanding of several key issues in drug therapy for the older person, specifically adverse drug reactions, polypharmacy and compliance.
• Discuss a number of strategies to promote the safe use of medications.
• Recognise the main problems that older people may encounter as inpatients in hospital.
• Identify several key strategies to help older people maintain their function and independence if they are admitted to hospital.
present some of the practical implications that arise from the disease processes that may be associated with the biology of ageing. The module begins by exploring some of the important ways that health problems may be different in older people than in younger age groups. It then discusses the particular area of drug therapy in older people. It concludes by examining the special care needs of older people who require treatment in hospital.
It examines ageing from the practical viewpoint of care providers. No matter what area of gerontology you are involved in, it is certain that those you care for will be
receiving some sort of medical care. It is essential that you understand the principles governing medical care of the aged. This topic identifies how biological changes associated with age impact on the practice of geriatric medicine.
The ageing of the population has major health care implications. In Australia, half of all acute care hospital beds are occupied by people aged over 60 years. People more than 65 yrsrepresent 12% of the population but account for 35% of total health care expenditure. Expenditure per person aged 65 or more is 3.8 times higher than younger people. It is estimated that the fraction of GDP spent on health will double in 40 years as a result of ageing.
Many health care workers express difficulty with geriatric medicine because of its complexity, the chronic nature of many common conditions, and the lack of evidence to which to base decisions.
The medical assessment of older people requires special skills and attitudes. Issues that need consideration include frailty and potential difficulties in communication (e.g. deafness, dysphasia, cognitive impairment). Patience, gentleness and courtesy will be rewarded with a wealth of clinical information as well as development of a therapeutic relationship with the patient.
The following issues are important in approaching medical problems of older people.
1. Atypical presentation of disease. The typical signs and symptoms of disease (e.g. chest pain in heart attack) are not seen frequently in older people. More commonly, older people present with non-specific symptoms: confusion, incontinence, failure to cope, immobility and falls. These are sometimes called the “geriatric giants” and in some ways parallel symptoms such as failure to thrive and irritability in paediatric medicine. In the acute hospital setting, these problems are often precipitated by infection (e.g. urinary tract infection, pneumonia) or the adverse effects of drugs – so called “drugs and bugs”. However, inevitably the acute illness often has a multifactorial aetiology.
2. Comorbidity. Older people often have several acute and chronic health problems. In developed countries in people over the age of 70 years, the prevalence of common diseases include arthritis (50-60%), hypertension (40-50%), heart disease (20-25%), cancer (20%), diabetes (10-15%), dementia (5-10%). It is important to identify all underlying health problems in every patient because, in order to achieve a good functional outcome, each problem (not necessarily each disease) usually needs to be addressed and treated. Because of the high prevalence of cognitive impairment and mood disorder in older hospitalized people, every older patient should have an assessment of cognition (e.g. MMSE) and mood (e.g. Geriatric Depression Scale) performed.
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