Dr Sean Ninan is a registrar in Geriatric and General (Internal) Medicine in the Yorkshire Deanery. He tweets at @sean9n and @gerisreg .
Here Sean writes on his blog, Senior Moments, about the importance of empathy in caring for older people.
I can see it everywhere.
In the patient list for the admissions unit – “acopia.”
In the nurse’s voice “Can you give her some lorazepam please?”
In the junior doctor’s tone “Another one admitted with falls. Nothing wrong with them.”
In the referral letter – “This lady has no (insert your own specialty here) -ological issues. Please could you take over her care”
Some healthcare workers do not enjoy dealing with older people. Part of me can understand why. It’s hard. Frail older patients place a lot of demands on staff. They need help washing and dressing. They need help with eating. They need help going to the toilet. They call out. They call out again. About the same thing you just reassured them about. And they don’t tell you what’s wrong with them. They come in “off legs” or confused, the same presentation hiding a multitude of diagnoses – from constipation to cord compression.
But looking after older patients with frailty should be, as Robert Francis QC put it, the “core business” of hospitals and their staff. Whilst I understand that it can be hard to care for such patients, what I don’t understand is the lack of empathy many people have for older people. Empathy is the foundation of compassion, a prerequisite for caring for others.
It is distinct from sympathy where you may feel sorry for someone else. It is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s situation, in their shoes. I think many people struggle with it, and surprisingly, I think, some doctors struggle with it. Why is this patient overweight? Why won’t they stop smoking? Why won’t they stop drinking? Why do I have to clerk the frail old patient who can’t tell me what’s wrong with me? [continues…]