Everyone ages differently. Certainly, there are commonalities — those shared gray hairs, those gentle wrinkles. Still, the process is unique, and different people will find the aging process produces distinct needs among individuals. To better understand how this works, clinicians have devised geriatric assessment tools.
Just as we might gauge a baby’s development by when she takes her first step or says her first word, geriatric assessment tools are those methods we use to gauge a person’s particular needs and abilities at the other end of the aging arc.
In the January 2011 issue of the medical journal American Family Physician, Dr. Bassem Elsawy and Dr. Kim E. Higgins, of the Methodist Charlton Medical Center in Dallas, outlined the breadth of these tools.
“Specific elements of physical health that are evaluated include nutrition, vision, hearing, fecal and urinary continence, and balance,” they write, in part. “The geriatric assessment differs from a standard medical evaluation by including nonmedical domains; by emphasizing functional capacity and quality of life; and, often, by incorporating a multidisciplinary team.”
A Breadth Of Geriatric Assessment Tools Evaluate An Elder’s Physical Ability And His Environment
In other words, geriatric assessment tools are a world beyond reflex mallets and tongue depressors. Rather, professionals are looking at the whole person, as well as the trappings of that person’s life, with a goal of meeting his needs and sustaining the highest possible quality of life.
Drs. Elsawy and Higgins, for example, point to the Katz Index of Independence in Activities, developed by Dr. Sidney Katz in 1963. The geriatric assessment tools applied here look at a person’s ability to bathe, dress and toilet independently, among other abilities. The range of established geriatric assessment tools employed by clinicians go into rather specific detail, possibly examining an elder’s ability to do her own laundry or yard work, to evaluating her range of motion or checking for mouth sores that might indicate ill-fitting dentures.
While geriatric assessment tools might seem an overwhelming and overly probing barrage of questions and exams, the importance of being thorough cannot be over emphasized. The findings, after all, will become the foundation for an older person’s care for, hopefully, years. Geriatric assessment tools are used to help increase that possible number of years and, maybe even more importantly, to ensure that they are comfortable and enjoyed with a maximum of independence.