July 23, 2019

Ways to improve health in your geriatric patients

Arkansas State University

By Dalton Smith, ATC, 1st Year SPT
College of Nursing and Health Professions 
Arkansas State University

 

In 2015 the world population of adults over the age of 60 was at 900 million but by 2050 that number is projected to be at 2 billion1! With this we should expect our patient population demographics to shift towards these older adults, and with it our treatment strategies. The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”2.  Older adults are plagued with added stressors that accompany aging such as losing mental capacities and a decrease in functional ability. This leads to isolation, loneliness or even psychological distress and then add chronic illness or acute injuries and you’ve got the formula for a health disaster.

Healthy people 2020 objectives identify multiple areas to improve older adult health as a priority. But are we doing the best we can to help? Over the next few decades we will see these cases more and more. According to the CDC, Arkansans 50 years and over are among the leaders in the nation who report they rarely or never receive the social support they need3. So, the question is how can our healthcare professionals have a positive impact on health in our older patient population?

The first thing that can be done to help is to listen to our patients. Many of us know already that our patients want to talk about their lives, but did you know that adequate emotional and social support is associated with a reduced risk of mental illness, physical illness and mortality4? So talk to your patients, actually listen and support them. This is a very easy, yet effective, way to have a positive influence on your patients.

Another way to help is to offer encouragement! Encourage them to eat healthy diets, get involved in their community and get at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day. Studies have shown that having better physical health has a large effect on mental health and having better mental health has a stronger effect on current physical health5. Therefore encouraging older adults and providing resources about the importance of physical health will have a positive effect on their overall health.

Sometimes a little education is all that is needed. Many patients aren’t aware of the resources they have access to. Here are some things you can educate them about:

  • For patients interested in becoming more physically active, there are many locations that offer Silver Sneaker6 programs throughout the state.
  • Maybe they want to become more involved in the community but don’t know how. There are many opportunities to be found on volunteerar.org7 that they could explore or you could recommend based on their interests.
  • If transportation is an issue, there are services throughout the state that could help get them to and from healthcare visits.
  • Using ChooseMyPlate.org9 or referring to a registered dietitian, you would be able to give them the information they need to start them on a path toward a healthy diet. And AGEC offers a diabetes empowerment education program10 that is extremely beneficial to older patients living with diabetes.
  • There is an abundant amount of resources available to older adults in Arkansas ranging from abuse hotlines to foster grandparent programs. They can be found on humanservices.arkansas.gov11 or even on the AGEC website under free community programs10.

At the end of the day it’s about finding ways to help people. Sure, we can inform them that eating well, participating in regular physical activity and not using tobacco will increase their well-being, but through listening we offer the support our patients need and can direct them to additional resources.

 

  1. WHO (2019). Mental health of older adults. [online] Available at: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-of-older-adults [Accessed 17 Jul. 2019].
  2. World Health Organization (1948). Constitution of the World Health Organization. Available at: http://www.who.int/governance/eb/who_constitution_en.pdf (Accessed 17 Jul. 2019).
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Association of Chronic Disease Directors. The State of Mental Health and Aging in America Issue Brief 1: What Do the Data Tell Us? Atlanta, GA: National Association of Chronic Disease Directors; 2008.
  4. Strine TW, Chapman DP, Balluz L, Mokdad AH (2008). Health-related quality of life and health behaviors by social and emotional support: Their relevance to psychiatry and medicine. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 43:151-159.
  5. Ohrnberger J, Fichera E, Sutton M. The dynamics of physical and mental health in the older population. J Econ Ageing. 2017;9:52–62. doi:10.1016/j.jeoa.2016.07.002
  6. https://tools.silversneakers.com/LocationSearch
  7. https://www.volunteerar.org/organization
  8. https://www.care.com/c/stories/5841/arkansas-transportation-resources/
  9. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/older-adults
  10. https://agec.uams.edu/communityprograms/
  11. https://humanservices.arkansas.gov/programs-services/services-by-group/senior