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Seniors downplay, sometimes lie about health

August 3, 2016 10:14 A.M.

By CASTANET STAFF

That little, old aunty or aging grandfather who say they are fine after a hospital stay may be lying through their teeth, confirm experts.

Older adults who have been discharged from the hospital following serious ailments tend to minimize or even lie about risks related to their condition and its management. They do it in order to avoid being seen as vulnerable, according to a UBC Okanagan study.

“These patients want to return to a normal pre-hospitalization life immediately, even if it is no longer possible,” said Rachelle Hole, associate professor of social work and the study’s co-author. “This will lead them to downplay, hide or mask their risks.

“These strategies may backfire and result in hospitalization, relapse or worse.”

The study focused on older seniors:

  • With an average age of 82.
  • Recently discharged from hospital.
  • Who had suffered a heart-related event, such as a heart attack.

When asked about their post-hospital health risks, participants preferred to highlight their abilities rather than discuss the risk of future health issues, complications or relapse.

The group associated the admission of a health risk with being disabled, incompetent and no longer independent.

“These findings suggest that the type of conversation health care providers have may significantly influence the patients’ well-being,” said co-author Kathy Rush, associate professor of nursing. “Seniors equate risk with loss and it may be more beneficial to change the conversation to focus on strengths.

“It may also be useful to communicate standardized instructions with the family present to ensure a smooth transition from hospital to home.”

Today, one in seven Canadians is aged 65 or over. By 2036, this will increase to almost one in four.

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