With the “graying” of America, physicians must learn more about the aging human body—in health and illness. Baby boomers can expect more years of life and even health as they age, but their physical and cognitive abilities will inevitably wane, and physicians will be called upon to help them maintain their independence and an acceptable quality of life. This month’s issue examines the ethical challenges physicians face in preserving health and well-being in the elderly.
It is often difficult for the clinical team to accept a patient’s family members as allies rather than adversaries. Close relatives know more about the patient than members of the medical team and may well share some of the patient’s values.
Inquire about the patient’s current living situation. Ask about feelings of neglect or abuse and look for signs (e.g., weight loss, contusions, pressure sores, or poor hygiene) that might indicate an unsafe home environment.