Later life in America is often reduced to one large medical event, marked by endless physician appointments, follow up visits, invasive tests and an ever increasing number of prescription medications. Dr. Dennis McCullough, a geriatric physician at Dartmouth Medical School, once warned that when older adults are subjected to every test and procedure in a physician’s arsenal, “there’s nothing left beyond a medicalized life.”
After decades working in America’s long-term care system, I’ve had the opportunity to help people find the best way to age. I’ve helped older adults stay at home, and push back against medical treatments, unnecessary procedures, emergency room visits and other institutional settings.
I have witnessed the disconnect between older adults’ desire to stay in their homes and the work of the vast majority of health care providers. Despite good intentions, few of these providers understand that the limits to living independently have more to do with safety, nutrition and security, than health problems or medical events.
To accommodate the realties that go with aging, most of us will need to accept help from others especially if the goal is to continue to live in one’s home. Even though that may mean being partially dependent on others, it does not mean going to hospital or needing medical personnel.
Of course, should you or a loved-one experience life threatening symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, serious injury or dramatic change in health, it’s critical to go to an ER or Urgent Care Center. If you are unsure what to do, call your physician and ask for advice.
But what happens when an older adult does develop an acute health issue? Usually, they continue to stay at home and manage symptoms as best as possible with advice from a physician or with what help is available. And they recuperate with much less risk of infection and a higher level of satisfaction than is possible in a medical setting.
With the right help and support from others, it is safe and sensible for people to age in their own homes, preserving their comfort and quality of life, without the need for institutionalized medical care.