elderly needs with multiple conditionsMost patients being cared for at home don’t have only one health problem. Although Alzheimer’s Disease is a common contributing factor for the necessity of home care, often other health problems are present and are affecting your loved one. Are you taking care of a loved one with a combination of issues? Diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and/or high blood pressure? The American Geriatrics Society has released an update in guidelines to help health professionals manage care of their older patients with 3 or more health conditions.

There are standards of care in the health care industry for older patients, but those clinical guidelines often don’t take into account the particular needs of older patients with multiple health problems. Why the need for a difference in standard care? Dr. Matthew K. McNabney of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine explains, “If a clinician caring for an older adult with these common conditions were to prescribe the medications that standard guidelines recommend for each of these conditions individually, the patient could end up taking too many medications, and running significant risks of drug interactions and potentially harmful side effects.”

The report is entitled Patient-Centered Care of Older Adults with Multiple Chronic Conditions: A Stepwise Approach from the American Geriatrics Society and can be seen in its entirety at www.americangeriatrics.org. The report helpfully outlines five different principles that should guide patients, their caregivers, and their clinicians in providing excellent quality of care:

  • Consider patient preferences – As a caregiver, make sure your loved one’s clinician helps you to understand all the options for their care. From that point, health care decisions can be made.
  • Interpret medical research and evidence – Research needs to be considered carefully by medical providers for each specific patient and their particular needs.
  • Make health decisions with risks, benefits, burden and prognosis in mind – Clinicians should consider with the patient and/or their caregiver what could happen with or without the available treatment. Patients and their caregivers need to be able to determine what treatments are the most important to them.
  • Assess the treatments with regard to complexity and feasibility – Healthcare providers need to remember that older patients will likely discontinue treatments that are complicated or confusing to them.
  • Optimize treatments and health care plans – Work with your loved one’s provider to increase the potential benefits and minimize potential risks with the health care plan. If at all possible, non-drug treatments should be considered before other treatments to avoid potential drug interactions and side effects.

You are an attentive and loving caregiver – one that cares deeply about your loved ones health. Take time to review these guidelines, and if you feel it would be helpful, to print out the report and take it to discuss with your family physician.