The medical system may treat you well, but less so after you reach age 80

This Washington Post article by Louise Aronson, MD perfectly describes the failures of our current medical system to address the problems that affect older patients.

The medical system may treat you well, but less so after you reach age 80

The clinic was in a dilapidated old building, yet the entryway retained a worn grandeur. Tapering, semicircular walls extended like welcoming arms, and a half-moon of sidewalk stretched to the quiet side street.

That’s where I first saw her, standing at the curb with her cane propped on her walker, squinting toward the nearby boulevard. The woman was clearly well into her 80s, with a confident demeanor and with clothes and hair that revealed an attention to appearance. She had a cellphone in one hand and seemed to be waiting for a ride.

I had been heading into the clinic for a 4:30 p.m. appointment, and when I came back out, night had fallen. But for her tan winter coat and bright scarf, I might have missed her leaning against the clinic’s curved wall. She still held the cellphone, but now her shoulders were slumped and her hair disheveled by the cold evening breeze.

I hesitated. On one side of town, my elderly mother needed computer help. On the other, our dog needed a walk, dinner had to be cooked and several hours of patient notes and work e-mails required my attention.

I asked this woman whether she was okay. She looked at the ground, lips pursed, and shook her head. “No,” she said. “My ride didn’t come, and I have this thing on my phone that calls a cab, but it sends them to my apartment. I don’t know how to get them here, and I can’t reach my friend.”

She showed me her phone. The battery was now dead. I called for a taxi with my phone. She was tired and cold by then and suddenly seemed frail.

We chatted as we waited. She owned a small business downtown — or she had. She was in the process of retiring, having been unable to do much work in recent months because of illnesses. She’d been hospitalized twice in the past year, she said. Nothing catastrophic, yet somehow after the second stay things had never quite gotten back to normal.

The geriatrician in me noted that she had some trouble hearing, even more difficulty seeing, arthritic fingers and a gait that favored her right side. But her brain was sharp, and she had a terrific sense of humor.

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The medical system may treat you well, but less so after you reach age 80


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