How do you get the elderly to see a doctor?

Dr Foo Swee Sen, Consultant in Geriatric Medicine at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital

How would you describe what you do to a 10-year-old?

I take care of old people and help them stay active as long as possible.

The elderly. So what makes them tick? Why specialise in them?

I am not sure what makes them tick. But I do know what makes them groan: When I prescribe exercises for them.

But senior citizens can be really stubborn when it comes to seeing the doctor. What tricks do you use?

No tricks at all. It is about being sincere and listening to them. They often have multiple ailments and symptoms, and it is important to listen and find out what is troubling them before helping them to resolve, improve or cope with their conditions.

Word association game! What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear:

a. Stiff - body

b. Pain - in the joints

c. Forget - me not

Is it true that doctors speak to the caregiver rather than the elderly patients themselves?

We often talk to both. In fact for most cases, the elderly patients will want to include their caregivers in the discussion. It is rare that the elderly patients do not wish to involve the caregiver, but if they do, we will respect their decision. At times, some elderly patients may not have the capacity to understand their own condition or the care that they need so we rope in the caregivers to ensure that the care plan is understood.

What would you say are the perks of your job?

It is satisfying to see my patients make improvement in their function or having their needs looked after. Other perks include being given first-hand accounts of history lessons.

What about the downsides?

Most elderly patients do not speak English or Mandarin, and I am not fluent in their language, so it can be quite embarrassing to attempt to speak in halting Malay or dialects.

What kind of caregivers or children are the best kind when you are doing your job?

There is no best kind of caregivers or children. Most of them try their best to provide support for the elderly within the limitations they are facing. A good caregiver will know how to attend to the needs of the elderly, be patient and also look after himself or herself to avoid burnout.

Does it make it harder or easier as a geriatrician when it comes to dealing with your own parents?

Being trained as a geriatrician arms me with the skills to recognise common afflictions with ageing and apply this to my own parents. But this does not mean that my parents will comply with my instructions or interventions.

juditht@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Aug 02, 2015.
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