Navigating the health care options for aging seniors can be a complex and frustrating ordeal for their family members or caregivers.
And with more baby boomers entering the elderly stage of their lives, attitudes are shifting about how to care for seniors, for those who are independent and others requiring 24/7 medical attention.
Care needs are increasingly being met at home or in institutional care facilities as opposed to becoming revolving patients in hospitals.
“For seniors’ care, the philosophy is moving more to enhancing wellness as opposed to the focus strictly being to deal with illness,” said Rachel Lewis, administrator for Sun Pointe Village, one of three facilities operated by Baptist Housing in Central Okanagan that provides independent and assisted living care options for its residents.
“Over the last 10 years, you have seen the complexity of medical care offered in residential homes increased with the realization that someone checking in and out of the hospital for medical tests or procedures tends to very stressful.”
Lewis was talking in Kelowna this week about improving the outcomes in transitions in care at Village at Mill Creek, the other Baptist Housing facility along with Village at Smith Creek in West Kelowna, one of the Okanagan Embrace Aging Month public forums held during March.
Lewis said Baptist Care has adopted a ‘Community of Care’ philosophy, offering three levels of senior care under one roof—independent, assisted and residential care living.
“It helps remove the disruption to a person’s life that comes from moving from one location to another and the adjustment of new environment,” Lewis said.
“Our goal is for each resident to be able to make our facility their home. We try to help connect them with other residents with similar interests, allow family visitors to visit as long as they want, for residents to bring their own stuff—pictures, furniture appropriate for the unit space and even paint the walls a colour they like—to help ease their adjustment.”
Lewis said generally the change from independent to assisted living doesn’t require a move within the building, but residential care does because of access to additional medical care equipment and staff resources.
“That still can leave a husband and wife separated but at least the opportunity is there to be living under the same roof within one of our complexes. My hope is that one day we can address that situation so a couple can stay together as they each go through the continuum of care at different levels. My hope is we will get there one day.”
Lewis acknowledged the differences between independent, assisted and residential care, and the care options within each of those categories, can be confusing coupled with the frustrations about availability of institutional care.
She said the provincial government’s move over the last decade to provide care services that allows people to live at home longer has been beneficial, reinforcing the philosophy of the longer seniors can live in their own home the better it is for them mentally and physically.
“Being able to transition people out of hospital and back to their homes with access to the care services they require has been successful in reducing the length of hospital stays for seniors, and the demand on the residential care system has gone down.”
There has also been a change of philosophy regarding the volume of prescriptions that seniors are often inundated with. Polypharmacy refers to multiple medications taken at the same time, increasing the risk of side effects and medication interactions.
“As the body ages, it doesn’t absorb the medication in the same way and some prescriptions counteract one another, so doctors have started peeling back on medications and found the general health of their patients actually tends to improve,” Lewis said.
She said reactions such as memory loss, confusion, balance problems and falls are reduced when seniors are not over-medicated.
In Canada, it’s estimate that 61 per cent of seniors livign in residential care are taking more than 10 drugs, and 27 per cent are taking 15 drugs or more.
Lewis said these changes are a reflection of a third health care category labelled geriatrics, added to what traditionally was broken down into children and adults.
“As baby boomers age, we are learning more about caring for seniors because people are living longer and what treatment focus you have for an adult in the 40 to 60 age range doesn’t always match appropriately with someone older than that.”
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