In the past, I really did not like hearing someone say, “That’s just part of getting old.” That irritating phrase conjured up images of someone being helpless or even hopeless about their stage in life and having to accept all sorts of unwanted atrocities associated with aging.
I have heard that phrase so many times in so many ways from the medical community during my years of being a nurse, and even more frequently over the past three years that I have been an Aging Life Care Manager here in Savannah. But today, because of life teaching me some very valuable lessons, when I hear someone say, “Well, you know, that’s just part of getting old,” I actually get a little excited and think, “Okay, challenge accepted!”
About a year ago, I took a Coastal Care Partners client to a vascular specialist after she had several skin tears related to chronic swelling in her legs and feet. For the sake of my client’s privacy, I’ll call her “Jane.”
The specialist walked in, looked at her and stated, “Jane, there really isn’t anything I can do; this is just part of getting old.” Jane, of course, was frustrated after waiting for an appointment only to be told it was basically a waste of her time.
After dropping a discouraged Jane back home, I reached out to a nurse friend of mine (who is certified in wound care) and asked her for help. She said that yes, there is absolutely plenty that we can do to help Jane. My friend suggested that every day we could help Jane by applying Eucerin lotion and then place tubigrip (a kind of compression bandage that provides support for swelling). She also said that Jane should start walking more because the calf muscles act like a pump, helping to pump excess fluid back toward her heart. We did all of this every day for a few weeks and guess what … no more swelling!
Recently I took another client to a hospital follow-up with her urologist. This client , who I will call “Mary,” had gone through a frustrating two months of surgeries and rehab stays, all resulting in an indwelling catheter that she was having trouble getting rid of. In the hospital they tried a few times to remove the catheter but had to put it back in after a few unsuccessful voiding trials. This is pretty common after surgery when a patient is not mobile.
I have heard urologists explain, “The bladder will probably wake up after you start moving.” Well, at this follow up we saw a PA instead of the physician, and the PA was clearly having a bad day. She walked in and said, “We can do the voiding trial today, but it probably won’t work, and you will end up in the ER getting another catheter placed.”
Mary was already dealing with some depression after all that she had gone through and she asked, “So are you saying that I will have this catheter the rest of my life?” The PA replied, “Most likely yes, due to your age and the voiding trials you have already failed.” In the car on the way home, I told Mary that we were not accepting this answer, and I began developing a new plan.
I subsequently took Mary to see another nurse friend of mine who specializes in caring for catheters. She then switched Mary to a type of catheter that Mary could drain herself and put her on a bladder training program every two hours. Our team at Coastal Care Partners helped implement this plan. We returned to Mary’s urologist a few weeks later for a voiding trial. Mary passed the trial and is now urinating normally.
My biggest takeaway from these two difficult situations with Jane and Mary (and the many others that I see every day in my work) is that when you put focused, solution-oriented attention and time on a problem or challenge, you usually get a positive outcome. Care Management is time intensive, but it’s what people often really need.
We love to advocate for our clients and help them find solutions to the complexities of aging. It is exciting to be part of the Aging Life Care Association and see all of the positive work other Care Managers are doing all over the country.
So now, when I hear (in whatever environment or context) someone lament, “Oh gosh, that really is just a part of getting old,” I think to myself, “Maybe so, but let’s look a little closer and see what we can do about it.”
Amy Pierce, RN, BSN,CMC