Tips to Help the Elderly through Their Medical Tests
What seems like a simple medical test to the average adult can be significantly more challenging to an elderly person. Here are a few reasons to take extra care when an older person requires a medical test.
- The elderly are more likely to have vision, hearing, and cognitive impairments that make it difficult for them to follow instructions or understand what must happen for the specimen to be properly collected.
- Older people have more problems with balance and mobility, factors that can make some samples physically harder or more dangerous to provide.
- Even a blood test can be more difficult because the skin is thinner, the subcutaneous tissue is less resilient, and the veins are more fragile and prone to tearing when punctured.
- For a person with dementia, even a brief sample collection procedure can be traumatic and lead to a catastrophic reaction by the patient. In this case, the need for testing must be even more carefully scrutinized.
- On top of all the physical and emotional challenges, financial constraints and details can deter an elderly person from undergoing testing.
If testing is a burden for someone you know, talk to the health care provider about the situation. Always discuss why the test is needed and how it will affect ongoing care or alter the course of therapy. Be sure that any test ordered will provide necessary information for clinical decision-making. The following items contain suggestions to help elderly patients through some of the practical matters of collecting a test sample.
The Challenge of Getting There
Transportation problems are common for the elderly, who may not drive and may be dependent on someone else to take them to their medical appointments. Reducing stress on the driver can make for a more positive experience.
Planning Ahead — If you must go somewhere unfamiliar for a test, get good directions on where you must drive and where you must walk; this will help eliminate stress. Find out if it will be easier for the person having the test to be dropped off at a certain entrance. You may also want to inquire about busy times and plan to avoid them.
Staying Home — If the person who needs the test does not drive and has difficulty arranging for a ride (or even for someone to transport the sample), inquire about onsite or home services.
Issues of Safety
Falls are common and especially serious in people over age 65, and bathrooms can be particularly hazardous. Pay attention to safety when you are collecting a urine or stool sample, particularly for individuals who have mobility or vision problems. Your focus on the collection process may prevent you from noticing hazards or unsafe conditions in the room, so gather what you need and plan ahead.
Tripping — Before you begin, you can remove scatter rugs and loose mats.
Slipping — Be on guard for spills and a slippery or wet floor.
Falls — Encourage use of grab bars or other supports near the toilet area to help prevent injuries from falls.
The Need for Help During Testing
It is not uncommon for an elderly person to need some assistance or accommodation when having a medical test. A person with arthritis, joint stiffness, or other mobility problem may find it difficult to obtain a urine or stool sample without some help. A woman with dementia may be unable to follow the instructions on obtaining a “clean catch” urine specimen; she may also become confused or agitated when someone tries to do this for her. A person who does not see well or who has poor manual dexterity can have trouble using the required equipment, such as specimen cups or blood glucose monitors for diabetes.
Here are some tips to make the sample collection process go more smoothly.
Instructions — An older person may have trouble hearing verbal directions, reading printed instructions, or remembering when a test is scheduled or what it is for. A voice amplifier can be used to improve communications with a patient whose hearing is impaired. Always ask for written instructions, preferably concise ones in large type. When giving oral instructions, take it one step at a time, and use a calm and reassuring tone; before you begin, seek to minimize noise and distractions and create a calm environment. Try playing soft music to soothe someone who is distressed or confused.
Special Equipment — Special equipment can make certain procedures easier and safer. A urine sample may be more easily collected in a receptacle placed in the toilet rather than in a cup or jar that has to be held. A magnifier with a bright light attachment can help a diabetic patient with vision loss perform self-monitoring of blood glucose. A different kind of lancet or needle may prove easier or less painful or intimidating to use.
Hired Help — Although nursing homes have personnel to assist with sample collection procedures, assisted living facilities do not always provide nursing support for these situations. If you need help where none is available, you may be able to hire a private nurse or home health aide who can provide the required assistance for a nominal fee.
Privacy — Helping a person obtain a urine or stool sample can be a task neither party finds particularly pleasant. The person needing the help may be embarrassed, and the person providing the help may find the odors and cleaning tasks offensive. Provide as much privacy as is safely possible to increase everyone’s comfort level.
Compassion — The caregiver involved in specimen collection may find it helpful to view the assistance provided as an act of kindness and love. If you are aware of a situation in which a patient is not treated appropriately, take steps to ensure that the patient receives competent and compassionate care.