75 years young, Tara was fit as a fiddle and rarely went to the doctor. She could out-energize most of her family with her lust for life and unique joie de vivre. Whenever she did experience minor aches and pains she brushed it off, chalking it up to old age. So it wasn’t any surprise when she found out she was the only one in her Red Hat Society who’d never had a geriatric assessment. She figured that since she hadn’t had any bad falls, serious illnesses, or recent hospital stays, why bother? She had more important things to do than waste time sitting at a doctor’s office!
At the urging of her friends, however, she decided to get a comprehensive assessment done—on the off chance that it might prove helpful. Turns out it did: the test showed Tara that she had a minor hearing issue, which had progressed so slowly over the years she had failed to notice it. A hearing aid quickly solved the problem—and her newly enhanced hearing allowed Tara to enjoy life even more.
Reasons for a Geriatric Assessment When Your Loved One Is Healthy
If your aging loved one is in great health, it still might be worth getting a comprehensive assessment done. These assessments differ from normal annual checkups in that they’re more thorough: they test for specific issues that older adults are most at-risk for, and use special tools to do this. They’re sometimes covered by Medicare; check with your geriatric clinic or doctor first to confirm. The most common time to get a geriatric assessment is after your loved one has experienced some sort of change in their physical condition. Whether they’ve just gotten out of the hospital, or have suffered an illness, it’s important to re-assess the overall status of their health.
But what if your loved one is outwardly quite healthy? It could be that they’re experiencing subtle symptoms that go unnoticed because they feel fine on the whole. It can be difficult to distinguish pain that’s simply caused by the aging process, and pain that needs medical attention. It’s possible that catching early signs of certain diseases might help to slow down their rate of progression. There are a number of other reasons why your loved one should still consider getting a geriatric assessment.
A Geriatric Assessment:
- Provides a baseline for their overall health. During a comprehensive assessment, doctors will evaluate your loved one’s psychological, emotional, and physical conditions through a variety of tests specifically tailored for older adults. Even if your loved one is really healthy, it’s helpful to establish this baseline—otherwise, it’s impossible to compare in the future whether their health is declining, staying the same, or improving, and by how much.
- Identifies early signs of dementia. This is one of the best reasons for your loved one to get an assessment while they’re healthy: Signs of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are sometimes evident to doctors right at the start of the disease. Catching dementia while it’s still in its earliest stages can help your loved one and family to be well prepared for it from the start.
- Suggests tips for staying healthy. The doctor conducting the assessment will offer your loved one suggestions for maintaining their health. From how to prevent falls at home to tips on nutrition, the advice will be tailored specifically for your loved one’s current physical and psychological condition.
- Connects families with useful services. Getting a comprehensive geriatric assessment not only tests your loved one for possible health problems, but ensures they have a clear plan going forward. If they happen to be diagnosed with an illness, the assessment will include guidance for follow-up treatments and long-term plans. You’ll also hear about nearby programs and activities your loved one could benefit from.
Comprehensive Geriatric Assessments Are Beneficial for Aging in Place
If your loved one is aging in place alone, it can be particularly helpful to get a geriatric assessment done while they’re currently healthy. When older adults are living in nursing homes, professionals can observe them on a daily basis. If anything odd comes up, you have reassurance that the nursing home staff will be checking up on it. However, if your loved one is living at home alone, they don’t have the benefit of regular observation. In this case, it can be all too easy to miss minor—yet potentially important—changes in their health.
Getting a comprehensive assessment offers a great solution. It can help catch any symptoms of illnesses like dementia that might otherwise go unnoticed, as well as connect them with useful organizations and resources in their area to help them stay healthy. This is also a nice opportunity to ensure that your loved one feels comfortable by accompanying them to their appointment. If nothing else, the geriatric assessment will provide an important baseline for your loved one’s health—and support them in maintaining that health for as long as possible.
Are you looking for more ways to support your aging loved one to stay healthy through their elder years? Get in touch with the compassionate staff at Institute on Aging today to learn more.