Senior care: What's holding you back?

Senior care: What's holding you back?

Don't stumble when it comes to older patients' health. Take your geriatric program to the next level by raising your awareness and avoiding these common senior care missteps.
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Jul 01, 2009


Greg Paprocki
In 2004, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) reported that only about 14 percent of elderly pets got basic, recommended health screens. Experts now estimate that number to be less than 10 percent. Seniors make up the majority of the pet population, plus many would argue they need wellness screens the most. So why are their wellness numbers so low?

You might not like the answer: Lack of a clear recommendation from the veterinary team is the main obstacle to senior care compliance, according to the 2004 AAHA Senior Care Guidelines. Either team members aren't talking to clients about geriatric care, or, if they are, they're not emphasizing its value. Don't let your team fall short on senior care. Avoid these common missteps to give your elderly patients a strong foothold on good health.

Misstep: No program in place

Here's the good news: At least 50 percent of small animal practices offer some form of senior care program, says Dr. William Fortney, an assistant professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology at Kansas State University's College of Veterinary Medicine and a long-time advocate for geriatric care. The bad news: By Dr. Fortney's figures, some 40 percent of hospitals haven't established any type of senior program. With no set guidelines to follow, many teams may not know where—or when—to begin.

To help older pets, you need to know what you're looking for and why, says Caitlin Rivers, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and technician trainer at Metzger Animal Hospital in State College, Pa. A senior program helps familiarize you with common conditions older pets are likely to develop, such as obesity and periodontal, heart, kidney, liver, and thyroid disease. It also teaches you how to talk to clients about senior care.

For example, too many times clients mention their pets' listlessness only to chalk it up to old age. You must explain to clients that a pet may slow down, but if it's not moving around anymore, it isn't because of old age, says Gina Toman, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and practice manager at Seaside Animal Care in Calabash, N.C. Most likely, the immobility happens because the pet is in pain, perhaps from osteoarthritis, she says. For more information on setting up a geriatric wellness plan, including recognizing senior disease symptoms and communicating with clients, search for "senior care programs."