Q. What would you like to be able to do?
A. If I know someone is going to fall and get hurt, I can’t order physical therapy because you can’t order treatment until the patient breaks a hip. Our health care system doesn’t provide reimbursement for the family discussions that they need to hold with patients during those stages. That’s difficult.
Q. Is our health care system supportive of people with dementia?
A. Our health care system is designed around acute care. If you have a problem, go to the hospital, they’ll fix you. But we’re a nation of people suffering from chronic diseases. We’re not a nation that dies anymore from infectious diseases or heart attacks. We die from congestive heart failure, from dementia, from chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases. But our health care system isn’t set up for that. Unless we reformulate our health care system to be one that can cope with chronic medical conditions, we’re doomed to fail.
Q. Are animals helpful to older people?
A. Animals in nursing homes are critically important, and good research shows that the presence of animals reduces depression or agitation among patients, even ones who aren’t communicative or have dementia. There’s good data to suggest that among healthier older adults, pets reduce heart disease and hypertension and depression, so there’s every reason for older adults to have animals. They’re very healthy.
Q. Are you a cat person now?
A. I’ve become much more of a cat person. I’ve learned to appreciate what they do. When I do rounds on the unit, Oscar will come seek me out. We’ve become buddies.
Carol Kaufmann is a contributing editor at the AARP Bulletin.