Elders Can Live Long and Strong
- Created on December 20th, 2005
- By Journey to Wellness
Our consumer–based, "throw–away" society, with its emphasis on fast – living, discarding the old for the new and high mobility, often sees African–American elders as undervalued antiques to be set aside and forgotten.
This mindset extends to Black elder health care where the very real physical and emotional issues that confront an aging population are dismissed as "old folks problems." This is unfortunate. If we are lucky, all of us will one day be old and will need the same intense care of body, mind and spirit we require during earlier stages of life. Special care means acknowledging that the needs of older persons are different and specific. A doctor who is a General Practitioner – one who deals with a broad range of health issues for all ages – may not be the best choice for an elderly individual.
Instead, a Geriatrician, a doctor who specializes in elder care, will be more familiar with the range of diseases that most often afflict the elderly. Diseases may include Alzheimer’s and Dementia, Arthritis and Rheumatism, Stroke, Heart Disease and Diabetes, among others. While younger persons may also suffer from these illnesses, their impact on the elderly may be more severe because of the likelihood of an elder person having two or more conditions at the same time. For example, a recent medical study proved that persons with Diabetes are predisposed to also develop Alzheimer’s. Coordinating treatment for persons with multiple ailments can be tricky and challenging. Cross–reacting medications – medicines that don’t work well together – is another major problem for elderly people who may have been prescribed many drugs to treat many diseases. All the more reason to choose a doctor who specializes in elder care and is familiar with this common problem.
Here’s a helpful action to take. Become a friend and Patient Advocate for an older Black person. A Patient Advocate can maintain contact with elders who live alone, accompany them on doctor’s appointments to streamline communication between doctor and patient, ensure that an elders’ safety and dietary needs are being met daily and help those who may be shut–in create a link with the outside world. This last point is especially important as Depression resulting from isolation and loneliness is another major issue for the elderly. Remember, by caring for our African–American elders we honor our past, enrich our future and reclaim an important cultural value that belongs to us!