Friday, July 20, 2012

Old Age.

Had quite a weird week...weird as in a week which really made me change my perspective on things.

I got to go visit a nursing home for people with dementia. I had previously volunteered in a nursing home before medical school but I didn't work with patients with dementia. I went to visit a 75 year old man who has vascular dementia and had just moved to this new home. The nursing staff were worried about him as he had spent the entire night pacing up and down the hallways continuously for 15 hours non-stop. I went into his room and sat down in front of him. His room was fairly small. One single bed. One small wardrobe in the corner. 1 night stand. 1 cabinet. This man just sat in his chair, hunched over. He wore a baseball cap so I couldn't see his face. As he sat there I saw him dribbling on to the floor. It was almost like he wasn't even there and was staring at his shadow. I looked over to his night stand and saw 2 pictures of him and his family. In the pictures, he was middle-aged and appeared to be a very proud man. He stood in the pictures full of confidence. He looked very happy. Then I looked back at the patient, still dribbling and staring at the ground. He looked quite frail. I eventually said hello to him and he didn't reply. I moved his hat a bit so I could see his face. He still stared at the ground. I asked him what is his name and he replied me without looking up. I tried to carry out a very basic conversation with him, which proved difficult as midway through he started mumbling. I couldn't quite understand him and he quickly stood up. He walked to his wardrobe and was very unsteady on his feet. He had a very unbalanced waddling gait. I asked him where is he going and he replied: "Home". I kindly told him this is his home and to sit down again. As he came back to his seat I looked into his eyes and he didn't look happy. He didn't really even look like the man in the picture by his bed. As he sat down, he went back to staring at the ground and stopped talking to me. I just sat there looking at him. I thought to myself: Is this how residents here pass their day? I found it pretty sad as they just sit in a fairly tiny room. This particular man, if he isn't pacing up and down the hallway, he is sat in his chair almost lifeless. Really made me think that people need to live their life to the fullest. Appreciate the things and people around them. I felt bad for this man. His life seemed pointless. He was confused. Ageing is a scary thing. Just comparing this man to the man in the pictures - it is almost like night and day.

Then when I went back to the GP practice, I met another lady who desperately needed a total hip replacement. Her x-rays showed severe osteoarthritis (OA) as in it was bone on bone. The patient had a shortened right leg as well due to the OA. On palpation of the greater felt like you were running your hand over a bag of marbles. You could feel the osteophytes! Range of movement was severely decreased and the patient had pain on extension and flexion. Actually any movement made the patient jump. It was fairly remarkable that she doesn't need to use any aids to walk, but you can tell she is struggling. Unfortunately, the surgeons do not want to operate on her due to her health and as well she does not have anyone at home to look after her. She told me that she has outlived her entire family and there was no one left. She explained to me that she tries her best to get through the day, but usually just stays at home to avoid any hassle and because her hip hurts too much. She has tried all sorts of analgesics and even tried topical treatments (which doesn't work, which is no surprise as her hip was bone on bone). I asked her what does she do every day if she doesn't really go out. She told me she just sits there and read and told me that her life has become very boring and that there isn't much meaning to it any more. She talked about how active she was when she was young and gradually as her hip got worse, she couldn't go out for walks in the park or even do her gardening.

If you think about it, when I start reaching the peak of my career, the majority of my patients will be the elderly. In general the population would be quite old as the current generation of "baby boomers" are starting to reach retirement age. I think it is key for medical students to learn how to deal with the elderly. It is frustrating to hear students go: "I don't like old people. I hate talking to them." I sometimes can't help but say back to them: "Well start liking it as the population ain't getting any younger." I'm sure I have said this before,  but I quite enjoy talking to the elderly. They always have a great story to tell or have some pretty wise things to say to you. They are all so strong as they have been through so much. They seriously need a heck load more respect from people of my generation and the younger generations. Ageing is the fact of life and there isn't any way to avoid it (well unless something really tragic happens to you at a young age...). Sometimes it is just hard to see what the future lies for you when you see so many elderly patients.

1 comment:

  1. It is pretty sad to see how people change like that. Everytime I do feel sad about a particular patient though, I always think it must be harder for their children to see them grow more and more frail.

    If its a comfort, the Dignity in Care team at my hospital do a lot to help patients with dementia - for example a pack of puzzles and pictures of things that were about when they were young - to help them engage and feel a bit happier. Hopefully that will become and more widespread thing amongst hospitals and care homes.