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Seniors are Not All the Same – and Doctors Should Stop Treating Them That Way!

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No one would say that a 25-year-old is just like a 50-year-old, or that someone who’s 40 has the same health issues as someone in their mid-60s. Yet when it comes to treating senior patients, too many doctors seem to think that everyone 65 and older is exactly the same! The obvious fact is that the health needs of seniors vary widely, and it’s time doctors took notice.

Regular Doctors Lack Proper Training

To reinforce that point, we want to bring you a story we first encountered a year ago – but sadly it appears little has changed since then. As you probably know, here at AgingOptions we’re big advocates for the work of geriatricians, physicians specially trained to understand and deal appropriately with the unique and varied health care needs of seniors. Our observation over the past two decades is that the average doctor lacks the training and the patience to listen well and accurately diagnose and treat the physical, emotional, and psychological ailments that are unique to growing old. Now we have found another corroborating source to back up our point of view.

We first discovered this article describing the problem on the aging-related website NextAvenue.  It’s called “Why Doctors Shouldn’t Treat All Older People the Same.” The article cites a recent New York Times column that pointed out a significant shortcoming in how doctors treat seniors. “Health care systems have very distinct doctors and procedures for treating children vs. adults,” says NextAvenue. “But the division often stops there.”  In traditional health care, anyone over age 65 is lumped into one category called “geriatric,” a one-size-fits-all label that fails to take into account what the article calls “the vast differences between those in their late 60s or 70s and those in their 80s or 90s.”

All Seniors are Not Interchangeable!

In the New York Times column, a California author and professor of medicine named Dr. Louise Aronson argues that the health needs of older adults are “much more nuanced” than the medical community likes to admit. One prime example: the CDC guidelines for vaccinations. The health agency has more than a dozen subgroupings of vaccine recommendations for children, and five for adults – but just one for seniors. Everyone 65 and older ends up tossed into one single vaccine subgroup. “That means,” says the NextAvenue article, “that a 65- or 70-year-old is viewed essentially interchangeable health-wise with someone in their 80s or 90s. And this is regularly how older adults are seen through a medical lens.”

This stereotyping of all seniors into one medical subgroup is both inaccurate and potentially dangerous. “Those two groups — the ‘young old’ and the ‘old old’ — don’t just differ in how they look and spend their days; they also differ biologically,” Aronson writes. “As a result, it’s likely that we are incorrectly vaccinating a significant number of the 47 million Americans over 65.”  She calls the stereotyping of older adults “a larger failing in our health care system,” and she lambastes the medical establishment who sees no difference between a 65 year old and a 90 year old. These doctors are acting “as if bodies and behaviors don’t change over the last half-century of life,” says Aronson. “You don’t need to be a doctor to see that this is absurd. Just as we don’t confuse toddlers with teenagers, or young adults with their middle-age parents, so, too, are we able to distinguish 70-year-olds from the nonagenarians a generation ahead of them.”

Seniors Excluded from Medical Studies

This problem is compounded, says the Times article, by the fact that seniors are poorly represented in medical studies. “The sad fact,” Aronson writes, “is that we frequently don’t know how to best care for the old. Treatments rarely target older adults’ particular physiology, and the old are typically excluded from clinical studies.” This bias against older adults has multiple root causes. “Sometimes they are kept out based on age alone, but more often it’s because they have one of the diseases that typically accompany old age. And yet we still end up basing older people’s treatment on this research, because too often it is all we have.”

In the New York Times, Dr. Aronson suggests two immediate and relatively simple steps that would help reduce the stereotyping of seniors. “First,” she writes, “whenever we apply something to people by age and are tempted to divide the life span into just childhood and adulthood, we should add oldhood to the list as well. Second, the National Institutes of Health should require that older adults be included in clinical studies, just as it already does for women and minorities.” We think these are both good ideas. We also like her concluding thought that as a society we need to stop dividing life into two parts, “childhood” and “adulthood.” As Dr. Aronson put it, “Life is a three-act play. It’s time our medical system reflected that truth.”

LifePlanning Puts it All Together

Our number one goal here at AgingOptions is to see our clients, radio listeners and seminar guests enjoy their senior years – the third act of that three-act play – with good health, vitality, purpose, dignity and security. Getting the right medical care is a vital component of that kind of retirement, which is why we urge you to contact us so we can refer you to a geriatrician in your area. But there’s much more to what we call “LifePlanning” than just good medical care. Protecting your assets in retirement requires a sound financial plan. Avoiding unwanted institutional care means you’ll need to plan for your housing needs. You’ll also need solid legal protection to make certain your wishes are honored, and a plan to communicate all this to your family to they’ll be knowledgeable and supportive of your desires as you age. Only an AgingOptions LifePlan combines financial, medical, legal, housing and family plans into one master blueprint.

We encourage you to find out more about this breakthrough approach to retirement planning by attending a free, no-obligation AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar with Rajiv Nagaich. It could be the most important two hours you’ve ever spent when it comes to planning your retirement future. For dates, times, locations and quick online registration, click here for our Live Events page, or call us for assistance during the week. We might not be able to reform the medical care system in the U.S. – but we can certainly help you be better prepared for whatever the future may bring your way. Age on!

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