How Functional Medicine Is Countering The Dangers Of Ageism In Healthcare
Ageism in healthcare is a serious problem, and is often unrecognized. When a 25 year old, a 60 year old, and an 80 year each present with the same symptoms, of course age is going to play into potential diagnosis and treatment. But what it should not do is create a bias toward treatment, assumptions about lower capabilities, cognitive status and sedentary lifestyle. This is a dangerous type of “senior profiling”.
Take for example, the elderly woman who was leading a full life in retirement. She was the chairman of a local non-profit board, was a regular in her yoga class, attended ladies night for golf and dinner at her county club, and was the caregiver for her disabled son. A new physician at her practice recommended a higher dose of diuretic (which she dutifully accepted), and several days later she became delirious from dehydration. She was admitted to the local hospital where it was presumed, due to her age, that she had advanced dementia. Hospice care was recommended at discharge. All she needed was IV fluids.
This may seem like an extreme scenario to you, but unfortunately it is not.
So how is functional medicine different in these scenarios? It begins with the cause of her entire health collapse, the diuretic this patient was prescribed. The real question is why was she taking diuretics in the first place? If a 35 year old goes into their primary care physician with symptoms a diuretic will help, it’s likely the physician will both prescribe the medication as well as moderately address lifestyle changes. But if it’s an 80 year old, the scenario will often be drastically different. This is where “senior profiling” comes in with mainstream medicine – and where functional medicine doesn’t see age. With functional medicine, the goal is to get to the “why” – not just the “what” – regardless of age.
Bottom line: It is important to presume that ALL patients are normally functional and bright until proven otherwise. Doing anything different is a disservice to them.
In Good Health,