Morris was admitted to the hospital after experiencing some mild arrhythmia shortly before his 81st birthday. He was feeling flush, and dizzy, and was having some trouble breathing. Nervous about another hospital visit, Morris recalled that while the staff at the last hospital were attentive and concerned, they didn’t seem to have the capacity or resources to treat an older adult differently than any other patient. This time, though, he was relieved to learn he would be taken to a hospital that had a dedicated Senior Care Unit.
From the first moment of his stay, Morris realized that his specific needs would be more easily acknowledged and addressed within a care facility focused on older adults. Before he even got into a bed, he already felt better. Later, he learned that more and more hospitals are creating senior-centric units which specialize in caring for older adults. They allow aging patients to feel comfortable during difficult times, and are an increasingly important tool in healing. See what a difference a senior-focused hospital unit can make the next time your loved one is in need of care.
How Older Adults Can Feel the Strain of Busy Hospitals
Sometimes, an aging adult who goes into the hospital with full, or only partially-limited, independence comes out much more dependent upon caregivers to get through their daily lives. In fact, a recent study showed that nearly one-third of patients over the age of 70 left a hospital stay more disabled than when they arrived. This number jumps to half when you increase the age to 80. This isn’t due to the sickness that brought them there (the study controlled for that, of course). These numbers came from what JAMA calls “Hospital-Associated Disability.” And, while we believe strongly that the right caregivers and family support can allow even a dependent older adult to live in dignity and comfort at home, the truth is that a stressful hospital stay can unnecessarily make life more difficult.
If a unit isn’t set up for seniors, and the senior is in a “normal rotation,” they will be treated like every other patient. With care, yes, and respect and thoroughness, but also in the same way a (relatively) healthy patient would. They’ll be kept up at all hours, possibly increasing an already-growing sense of fatigue. They’ll be surrounded by noise, which is especially difficult as loudness discomfort increases as we age. And, they might be bedridden for days or weeks at a time, without proper attention being paid to atrophying limbs and a general sense of physical weakening. Worst of all, they may be exposed to bacteria and illnesses from those around them. And if your loved one has had an unpleasant hospital experience in the past, they may be reluctant to speak up about needed care to try to avoid a similar situation.
How Senior-Centric Hospital Units Can Change Everything
According to a recent NPR report, however, hospitals throughout the Bay Area are beginning to understand that proper elder care starts with dedicated units staffed by medical professionals specifically trained to work with older adults. Daily schedules, physical spaces, and equipment are all designed to treat aging adults with the comfort and care they deserve.
San Francisco General established one of the first senior-focused wards in 2007, which it calls the “Acute Care for Elders” (ACE). At ACE, incoming patients are assessed using memory and cognitive tests to help evaluate their need for simple daily reminders about taking medicine, exercising or staying active, eating proper meals and more.
ACE also takes into account the relatively weaker physical capabilities of many of its residents. While it isn’t a problem for some older adults to swing out of bed and push an IV into the bathroom, the IV is not a substitute for a walker if a patient needs support when walking. Paying attention to seemingly small details like this can help stave off embarrassment or discomfort for aging patients. And there is also a positive psychological impact to recovering in a ward with patients in a similar stage of life with whom you can relate.
It’s those little things that make the biggest long-term impacts on the lives of older adults. Ensuring that a patient has help getting out of bed and walking down the hall a few times a day can mean the difference in maintaining independence when they are ready to leave the hospital, instead of needing the support of a family member or caregiver for additional recovery.
As the NPR story reports, the whole unit is designed around making sure that seniors stay active.
Patients are also encouraged from the start to do things for themselves as much as they are able throughout their stay. The health team removes catheters and IV tethers as soon as medically advisable, and supports patients in getting out of bed and eating in a communal dining area.
ACE is setting the standard for the Bay Area—allowing older adults to get the care that will allow them to continue to heal and then thrive, living as full and independent a life as possible. While many hospitals don’t yet have the resources, or even the physical space, to allow for senior-centric units, as awareness of their importance grows, and as the area’s population ages, it seems certain that more and more will realize the importance of embracing this model.
It’s a key step in the revolution of changing how we treat aging—one that gives well-deserved attention and support to a segment of our population too often marginalized, ignored, or lost in a thicket of beeping machines and tangled tubes. After all, when aging adults are given the care needed to maintain a vibrant presence in our community, we all benefit.
At Institute on Aging, we help older adults live lives of dignity and independence throughout every stage of aging and illness. Our programs allow family members and caregivers to provide the best possible care to their aging loved ones. Connect with us today to learn more.