By Noah Rue
I recently visited my family in another state. My father was experiencing serious side effects from the multiple drugs he was being prescribed for his seizures, including hostility and heightened anxiety. I read the warnings and possible side effects from the drug he was given, after the fact, and the warning label specifically stated that individuals with a history of anxiety should not be prescribed that particular medication. My father has a history of anxiety and the situation resulted in my father exhibiting short-term hostility and aggression because of the immediate reaction of the drug.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 18 percent of the U.S. adult population experiences anxiety in some form. If you look at the chart breaking diagnosis down by age, you might notice that it lists only 15 percent of adults aged 60 or older as experiencing anxiety. This statistic seems very telling to me, as a diagnosis is hardly indicative of the absence of anxiety.
In fact, a recent study conducted by I. Koychev and K.P. Ebmeier found that “Anxiety disorder in the elderly is twice as common as dementia and four to six times more common than major depression.” Hospitals and clinics are often filled with intense emotional responses on the part of patients and family members, including fear, anger, grief, and denial.
After my father had been deemed unsafe, I quietly left the hospital room to go outside and call a friend. That’s when the police cars rolled in. I’d left shortly before, unable to deal with seeing my father exhibit such uncharacteristic hostility toward myself, my mother, and the nurses. He was wheeled out on a stretcher and into an ambulance, which was then accompanied by police cars to the main hospital.
Security notwithstanding, witnessing one’s own father in this context left me in a state of shock, paralysis, and frustration. Furthermore, there was little I could do to alleviate the situation because my father was in no condition to be able to speak for himself, let alone articulate what he knew to be true. However, he had communicated one thing very clearly: he did not want to be kept somewhere against his will.
After being checked out of the rehabilitation clinic into their newly-renovated hospital, things improved due in part to increased staffing and better communication between nurses, doctors, and our family. My father’s case management was handled by a nurse coordinator who was highly empathic and intuitive, and she was able to discern the fact that my father was highly disoriented and anxious, as a result of the increased duration of his hospital stay.
She was personable enough to leave details about herself and her life on a photo board in the hospital room. This allowed her to more skillfully navigate our strained family dynamic, which had become stressed due to my father’s unexpected health complications. Moreover, because there was more teamwork and improved communication, each medical team member was able to more effectively do their job.
In the event of terminal illness, it may be necessary to discuss emotional coping methods like connecting, sharing a plan of action, and developing potential in order to focus on the positive in a patient’s life — regardless of how much time a patient has left. These kinds of mundane details are difficult for everyone involved, but they are also fundamental to working with older patients.
What are your thoughts on practicing active, compassionate listening that establishes firm boundaries and maintains respect and understanding? How can all concerned parties ensure that their needs are heard and understood, while still providing the best possible care?
Noah Rue is always wondering where his next trip will take him. When he’s not traveling the world, he writes about sustainability, iot technology, workplace management, career development, and other interests. Noah also enjoys a good meme from time to time. You can contact him at email@example.com.