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JAN 20/2015

How GPs can safeguard the elderly

For doctors working in general practice, knowing the specific needs of the community they are serving is key to finding the ways that care can be delivered. Identifying the exact demands of the patient is especially important where caring for the elderly is concerned.

Recent figures from Cancer Research UK suggested that a large number of older people are missing out on cancer surgery, which could save their lives or significantly improve their condition. These statistics indicate the importance of ensuring the needs and wishes of elderly patients are addressed, and the GP has a key role in achieving this.

But how can GPs safeguard the elderly?

Advice and support
The most important role someone in general practice can have in the lives of elderly patients is to position themselves as a key point of contact for support or advice whenever necessary. This is essential for all groups of patients but is especially relevant for older patients who may not want to bother their families, or draw attention to their medical worries. 

By being a contact for them, a GP can minimise the risk of them having an issue that is misdiagnosed as something else or not diagnosed at all. This helps in circumstances where the patient may be concerned that they have cancer or dementia, or some other life-changing condition where beginning treatment as early as possible is key for positive outcomes. 

Communication
Communication is the cornerstone of building a strong relationship between patients and GPs, which improves all areas of treatment and care. Although this is important for all of the healthcare professions, it is paramount for those in general practice as they have the time to build and develop a relationship with patients.

This can be an important tool for helping and identifying the problems that elderly patients may be struggling with, which is key for ensuring they maintain good health overall.

Technology
One of the main obstacles that GPs have to deal with when ensuring the health and wellbeing of elderly patients is maintained to a high standard is that many do not want to sacrifice their independence. However, by building a good relationships with these patients, based on communication, advice and support, GPs can educate and inform the elderly about the various options open to them. If their health deteriorates after a stroke or other traumatic event, or just over a period of time, they may feel as though the only solution is to put them in a care home. However, the advancement of technology has expanded the amount of options that elderly people have, allowing them to stay in their own home and maintain their independence for as long as possible. 

Conclusion
Overall, GPs are in a privileged position to help safeguard the elderly by identifying and addressing any issues with their physical or mental health. There are many measures and approaches that these medical professionals can use to help older patients under their care, but all of them revolve around a good relationship having been built between GP and patient.

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