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Published on July 01, 2020

Can Mom or Dad Still Live Alone? The Importance of a Geriatric Assessment

This December was tough for Michelle and her family. It was the first time in over 30 years that her 85-year-old mother wasn’t able to cook the family’s traditional holiday meal. She made the attempt, but the recipes were too hard to follow and she wound up with a nasty burn on her hand. When Michelle looked a little closer, she found a few months’ worth of unpaid bills on her mother’s coffee table and trash bags piling up in the laundry room.

Unfortunately, this scenario isn’t all that uncommon.

Families such as Michelle’s face tough decisions around caring for a loved one who may no longer be able to care of themselves. A geriatric assessment makes it easier to get the necessary help.

What Is a Geriatric Assessment?

“Typically, a geriatric assessment is initiated by a primary care physician or a family member who sees a change in a patient or older family member,” said Donna Graham, MSN, CRNP, a nurse practitioner at the Geriatric Assessment Center at Jefferson Health - Abington. “Occasionally patients themselves will schedule an appointment if they have a specific concern about aging.”

A geriatric assessment is different from other appointments at a doctor’s office. First, they are typically longer, lasting up to 90 minutes. They are also focused on understanding the whole person, not just one or two specific medical problems. The geriatric assessment evaluates the patient’s functional ability, physical health, cognitive abilities and psychosocial needs.

“Since we’re looking at so many different aspects of the patient’s life, the evaluation requires a team approach,” said Barbara Sklar, MSW, LCSW, a social worker at the Geriatric Assessment Center at Jefferson Health - Abington. “The assessment includes a doctor or nurse practitioner, a social worker, the patient and the patient’s family members.”

The typical geriatric assessment includes:

  • Comprehensive medical and personal history
  • Physical Exam 
  • Cognitive screening and depression screening
  • Evaluation of the patient’s ability to walk and maintain balance
  • Fall risk and safety evaluation
  • Psychosocial needs

“While the medical team is working with the patient, a social worker will meet with the family separately,” said Sklar. “We’ll discuss their concerns and the changes they’ve seen in their family member.”

After the Assessment: Addressing Potential Problems

“After the assessment is complete, the team will meet to collaborate and make recommendations,” said Graham. “We’ll then discuss these recommendations with the patient and their family members.”

A comprehensive summary of the geriatric assessment is also provided to the patient's primary care physician. 

The recommendations that follow a geriatric assessment depend on any issues the team identified. Sometimes the team may work with the patient’s primary doctor to suggest adjustments to medications or recommend additional diagnostic tests. If the patient seems depressed or has other emotional difficulties, they may be referred for further evaluation. Other common recommendations may include home safety checks, medication reconciliation, referrals to other healthcare providers, and providing community and educational resources.

A geriatric assessment is an important tool that helps older adults maintain their quality of life as they age. If you or a loved one would benefit from a geriatric assessment, talk to your primary doctor or contact the Geriatric Assessment Center at Jefferson Health - Abington to get started.

To schedule a geriatric assessment at Jefferson Health - Abington, call 215-481-5640.

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