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Humanising medicine in the care of the elderly

15 May 2024

For many older people, there comes a point when they need support not only from loved ones, but also professional medical care. This turning point is often the result of the natural process of ageing, which can bring with it a range of health challenges requiring complex and integrated care. Factors such as chronic illness, mobility limitations or cognitive changes not only increase dependence on others for daily activities, but also highlight the need to adapt the healthcare system to meet the unique needs of seniors.
Recognising this moment is crucial for both older people and their families, as early involvement of medical and social teams can significantly improve seniors' quality of life by providing them with the necessary medical treatment, psychological support and access to social resources. This is a time when a comprehensive approach to care - including both medical treatment and emotional and social support - becomes crucial.
The challenges faced by older people require the healthcare system to adapt and innovate to meet the growing needs of this demographic group. Caring for seniors during this period of life is not limited to treating physical conditions, but also includes support in maintaining as much independence as possible, managing chronic illnesses, and responding to emotional and social needs.

Challenges in caring for older people

The care of the elderly is complex and multidimensional, requiring not only advanced medical interventions, but also deep understanding and empathy. Older people often change not only physically but also emotionally, which poses unique challenges to the healthcare system. One of the biggest problems is multimorbidity, the coexistence of several chronic conditions that require a complex treatment plan and coordination between different specialists. In addition, age-related cognitive changes, such as dementia or memory impairment, require medical caregivers not only to have specialised knowledge, but also patience and the ability to adapt communication to the patient's needs.
Another challenge is the often inadequate availability of integrated health and social care services, which are key to maintaining older people's independence and quality of life. Lack of consistency in care and difficulties in navigating the complex system of services can lead to frustration for patients and their families, as well as delays in receiving the necessary help.
Another important aspect is the need to address the psychological and emotional needs of older people. Loneliness, social isolation and the processing of bereavement are problems that can have a profound impact on the mental health and general well-being of seniors. Adaptations to the physical and technological environment are also required to make them senior-friendly. Insufficient availability of adapted transport, architectural barriers in medical facilities and limited access to technology that could support independence and contact with family and caregivers are further obstacles to effective care.

The importance of empathy

Empathy and relationship building in medical care are foundations that play a key role in improving the quality of care for seniors. In the world of medicine, where technology and procedures are indispensable elements of treatment, it is often easy to forget the human dimension of care. However, it is empathy and the ability to build deep, meaningful relationships with patients that constitute the strength and effectiveness of healthcare, especially in the context of older people.
Empathy in medicine translates into the ability of medical staff to empathise with patients, understanding their emotions, concerns and expectations. This approach allows for an environment of trust and mutual respect, which is essential for effective communication and collaboration. For older people, for whom a visit to the doctor can be a source of stress or anxiety, an empathetic approach by staff can significantly reduce tension, facilitating an open dialogue about their health, needs and expectations.
Relationship building in medical care goes beyond single interactions between doctor and patient. It involves long-term engagement, understanding the patient's life history, values and preferences. For seniors who may be dealing with multiple chronic conditions, an ongoing, trusted relationship with a healthcare professional provides a sense of security and stability. This is particularly important in cases where a patient's cognitive abilities are changing, and a regular medical caregiver can better interpret subtle changes in behaviour and health that may require intervention.
Empathy-based relationships also have a profound impact on medical staff's understanding of the unique challenges faced by older people. This allows treatment and care plans to be tailored to be not only medically effective, but also acceptable and feasible for the patient. An empathic approach promotes a holistic view of the patient, where care focuses not only on physical treatment, but also on emotional, social and spiritual support.

Humanising care for the elderly

Humanising elderly care is a process that transcends the boundaries of traditional medicine, focusing on supporting the whole person. This approach requires medical staff not only to have technical knowledge, but above all the ability to empathise, listen deeply and build relationships based on trust. A key element is the creation of personalised care plans that take into account not only health conditions, but also the life preferences and goals of seniors.
Empathetic communication and integration of care, bringing together different disciplines and professionals, foster a holistic approach to seniors' health. Such integrated interventions help to create a coherent care plan that addresses all aspects of a senior's life, from medical treatment to psychological and social support.
Humanisation also manifests itself in the adaptation of the physical and technological environment to make it more accessible and friendly to seniors, increasing their comfort and sense of security. Education of patients and their families is an integral part of this process, enabling them to actively participate in their care.
Implementing humanisation in elderly care therefore requires a comprehensive approach that combines high medical standards with a deep understanding of the value of empathy and a personalised approach. This is the key to not only treating, but also supporting a full life for seniors.