Someone should write A Seniors’ Guide to Health Care! It should be compulsory reading for everyone. Especially for those of us who are actually seniors. And for people who care about us. And for those who will one day be past the first flush of youth. No such document exists, as far as I can tell. I might have to write it myself.

Row of beds in a hospice museum in Baume, France
Row of beds in a medieval hospice-for-the-aged  in Baume, France

Health care for older people has come a long way over the years. We are lucky in Australia to have a health care system that works. Well, most of the time. On the whole, health professionals are competent and conscientious. Hospitals provide expert care.

I started thinking about this after a recent visit to an after-hours general practice clinic. My symptoms were typical of shingles. But the general practitioner did not know me. She did not listen and declined to give me antiviral medication. As a result, I was much sicker for weeks than I needed to be.

As a rule, general practitioners and specialist doctors show keen interest the welfare of their older patients. So do nurses and other health professionals. But not always.

The health system can be a dangerous place for seniors. A Senior’s Guide to Health Care would point out the possible dangers. We could avoid them.

We all know about home invasions, muggings, traffic accidents. We know about elder abuse from those we should be able to trust. But until the Seniors’ Guide to Health Care is available, we seniors should be alert, for ourselves and for others.

The illnesses of older people are sometimes serious. But our aches, pains and minor complaints are often just plain boring.

Who wants to listen to an account of some old person’s peristaltic movements? Who needs to suffer through the vagaries of someone else’s swollen fingers and wonky knees? Even accidents and shingles have limited value in conversation.

When we must talk about our health, we assume we can trust the health professionals we confide in. We hope that emergency departments, general practitioners and those they refer us will listen intelligently to what we say. We presume they will treat us like everyone else, take our health issues seriously and respond appropriately.

Hospitals and doctors who did not listen have caused havoc recently in the lives of some my seventy-plus friends. They are articulate people, past retirement age. Two are still in the workforce. They tell me doctors did not listen to them. Disregarded symptoms. Did not properly investigate complaints. Declined to refer on for second opinions.

Another view of the Baume hospice museum. There was no Seniors' Guide then.
Another view of the Baume hospice museum. There was no Seniors’ Guide then.


Economists tell us that seniors put a strain on the health care system. They say old people cause cost hikes, They say these will only get worse. In the case of my friends, the additional cost to the economy was not because of the age of the patients. It was because of the inadequacies of the health care system.  They did not receive the timely treatment they needed. Their recovery was compromised, prolonged. It was much more expensive than it should have been.

Under normal circumstances, these four people are usually well able to stand up for themselves and their rights. Made vulnerable by injury and illness, they had little chance of a fair hearing or adequate assessment. A Seniors’ Guide might have helped them.

There are a number of steps we can take to improve the lot of older people in the health care system.

A Seniors’ Guide to Health Care might include

Instructions about how we could

  • Support each other;
  • Speak out whenever we witness poor care;
  • Enlist the support of our children and friends in advance;
  • Teach our children how to advocate on our behalf if they see us vulnerable in the health system;
  • Invite someone we trust to attend health care appointments with us;
  • Change to another doctor if we aren’t satisfied that they are listening and responding;
  • Ask for a second opinion;
  • Consult health advocacy services;
  • Complain to hospitals that provide poor care. This is helpful for the hospitals because, when we point out that their services have not met our expectations, they receive information that helps them to review and change policies and practices.
  • We can write to our members of parliament and ministers for health.

Perhaps a Seniors’ Guide to Health Care could help change our health care system.



8 replies on “Seniors’ Guide to Health Care”

    1. So I have, Christina. Thank you for pointing that out and for commenting.

  1. Don’t give up, Maureen—there are good doctors out there. I know there are those who don’t listen, but they also don’t realise they can’t help someone without listening to them, and I doubt that they ever will. Above all, you need to be able to trust your doctor, it’s imperative. Give your feedback to the hospital and the doctor—for what it’s worth, but I don’t hold out a lot of hope for change. Then search for someone better, and keep searching until you find someone who will listen and whom you can trust. Maybe a younger doctor? I see the way my daughter is being taught Medicine, and there’s much more emphasis on listening and patient-centred care. I have a lot of hope for our future doctors, so don’t give up.

    1. Thanks, Louise. I think you may be quite right about younger doctors. The trouble is, like most people I thought that older doctors would somehow be wiser than young ones. I went out and deliberately doctor shopped. I had a list. Told a couple of general practitioners I what I was doing. Acted as if I were interviewing them for a job. And indeed I was doing just that. I finally found the loveliest woman who actually takes me seriously when I tell her about my health. When I tore my gastrocnemius (calf) muscle, she actually sat on the floor to examine my leg. She said it was easier for her to do that that it would be for me to move from the chair to the examination couch. I loved her from that moment! Now I have a mission to tell the world of seniors to look after their health by finding doctors who are concerned about old folk.
      And to support each other.

      God bless your daughter and her colleagues.

  2. Maureen, your blog is always interesting, and I would just like to mention that the DLP (Daily Living Products) in Shenton Park, has a wealth of helpful advice (oral and printed) -but, of course, reaching the people who actually need it is always the big problem. I’m sure your blog will make a difference to some people who will benefit from it.

    1. Thanks, Coral, glad you find my blog interesting. And thank you for drawing attention to the DLP in Shenton Park. Is that the one in the grounds of Sir Charles Gairdiner Hospital? I do understand how difficult it is to let people who need information know. Hence my sometimes repeated ideas about health care.

  3. The telephone book gives five locations – Wanneroo, Midland, Shenton Park, Leeming and Bayswater – I’m fairly certain I went to the Lemnos Street one in Shenton Park. Hope you are keeping well and warm.

    1. Thank you for that information, Coral. Lovely weather for staying in and reading!

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