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Putting an end to Ageism in Health Care

Did you know that according to the National Ageing Research Institute(NARI) 63% of Australians have experienced ageism in the past five years? The team at Brisbane Waters Private Hospital & Dr Peter Lipski are doing something about it to improve health outcomes and patient wellbeing.

Brisbane Waters Private Hospital turns lens on ageism in geriatric care

A trial of a new, revolutionary approach to geriatric care at Brisbane Waters Private Hospital which aims to tackle ageism in health care has already started to transform lives in the Woy Woy peninsula.

With more than 21% of residents aged 65 years and above living on the Central Coast, the hospital began trialing a new approach based on a range of evidence-based medicine principles introduced by a local geriatrician, Dr Peter Lipski.

Brisbane Waters Private Hospital Director of Clinical Services (DCS) and CEO Ms Debbra Ritter said Dr Lipski’s principles, which are outlined in the latest edition of his book were introduced to take age out of the equation when it comes to clinical care at the facility.

“By introducing a holistic approach which focuses on core pillars of care, we have been able to see our geriatric patients dramatically improve, recover and return home in greater numbers than previously experienced,” Ms Ritter said.

“Through measures to improve and address malnutrition, blood pressure, adverse drug reactions, the introduction of extensive pre-op and post-op geriatric assessments, we have seen a dramatic transformation in our older patients.”

In addition to this, a project entitled HUNGER (Helping Under Nourished Get Energy to Recover) has been introduced at the hospital as part of a working group which focuses on empowering nutrition for recovery.

“We’ve introduced changes including feeding times, which allows for greater gym time and we’ve also worked closely with our catering manager to change menus.

“The project has been done in collaboration with Occupational Therapists, Nursing staff, Dietitians, Dr Lipski and Physiotherapists to improve services including the development of a screening tool which aims to identify potential malnutrition.

“Through boosting further education, awareness and the importance of nutrition to both staff and patients, we’ve seen an improvement in compliance across a range of areas and as a result, minimise the impact of ageism when it comes to geriatric care.”

According to Dr Peter Lipski who is the author of ‘Your Elderly Parent’s Failing Health,’ blaming old age on medical conditions or symptoms effectively denies older people proper medical care.

“No one is ever too old for treatment, one of the reasons that Geriatric Medicine is so successful is because there is attention to detail, getting the simple things right and a holistic overview of the whole patient, not such a specific organ approach,” Dr Lipski said.

“We need to destroy the myth that old age is associated with disease, disability and suffering it simply isn’t true.

“Older patients can have spectacular improvements in their serious medical conditions because small interventions can make a huge difference to their health overall.

“By applying a holistic approach which tackles a reduction in drugs and adverse drug reactions, improving nutrition and mobility, managing low blood pressure, treating organ specific disease and chronic pain you can achieve great outcomes for older patients.

“Older people should be able to function just as effectively as a younger person and it has been incredible to see these principles applied to clinical care at Brisbane Waters Private Hospital and the results really do speak for themselves.”

According to 76-year-old Umina Beach local, Douglas Lawrence, the care he has received under the guidance of Dr Peter Lipski’s principles has transformed his life.

“To be seen as a whole person and not just an older person has been incredible, Dr Lipski didn’t just listen to my main symptom and concerns, he took in the full, whole picture of my health and found there were a few areas that needed to be put back on track,” Mr Lawrence said.

“I am a Vietnam Vet and this was the first time I had been encouraged to undergo the DVA process to streamline my care.

“It’s hard for us returned service men who are still experiencing survivor’s guilt to put their hand up and ask for help.

“Dr Lipski really helped me to not only take my health seriously, but he advocated for an operation and treatment that has fixed an injury that has impacted me my whole life.

“Seeing people for their symptoms and not just their age really matters and my overall health is now the best it’s ever been.”

According to Ms Ritter, next steps for the hospital is to share their outcomes wider and encourage further implementation of the principles to remove age as a catch all for illness in geriatric patients.

“By removing ageism and age from the clinical discussion and instead looking closer at patients to understand their symptoms and underlying illness, we have a greater chance of not only helping our patients, but improving their overall quality of life so they recover, return home and continue to live a fulfilled and healthy life.”

A third edition of Dr Lipski’s Book, Your Parent’s Failing Health. Is It Ageing Or A Treatable Condition? is now available.

Common age myths in health care- According to Dr Peter Lipski

Myth 1: Old age means declining health and causes dizziness, falls, confusion, malnutrition and breathlessness.

False: These are treatable medical symptoms of conditions and not indicated or caused by age

Myth 2: Some people are just too old and too far deteriorated to treat.

False: It is never too late to treat an older person, ageism can lead to misdiagnosis, malnutrition and death if not addressed. The greatest risk for elderly is ignorance.

Myth 3: Memory and brain function significantly reduce with age to the point where they cause impairments in day to day function

False: Older people should be able to function just as effectively as a younger person. If they are not, an investigation should be conducted into the medical reasons for these symptoms.

Myth 4: Eating less food and in smaller portions is natural as you get older

False: In fact the opposite is true. Older people often need more nutrients and fortified meals for their nutrition needs. If they are eating slower or less it could be a sign of swallowing issues or that they need assistance with their eating and a nutritional assessment.

Myth 5: Falls and chronic pain are a natural part of getting older

False: Older people should not fall any more frequently than younger people. All falls should be explored to determine if it is a symptom of an underlying medical issue. Ignoring and chalking up to old age can actually lead to worse outcomes for older people. The fall or pain could be due to worsening eye sight, an undiagnosed fracture, a neurological condition, medication or heart issues. Age is not the cause of falls or pain.