How to Optimize Your Practice for an Elderly Patient Population

Apr 7, 2022
6 min read
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Most cultures around the world honor their elders; they represent wisdom and are held in high regard in the society. While that may not always be the case in Western cultures, we should still treat our senior citizens as such. We can all only hope to live long healthy lives. We likely have had an experience with an older family member or loved one and you can base your how you treat seniors on how you would want to be treated if the roles were reversed.

This article will outline five tips for optimizing your optometry practice for seniors.

Five tips for making your practice age-friendly

1) Only connect . . .

My father is a retired optometrist and would always tell me about connections he would have with his older patients. He would often remind me that many seniors may be going through difficult times or may be dealing with chronic illness or pain. Many of them also may go to many doctors appointments and expect negative news, so they may be apprehensive about their visit. Making them feel comfortable and making their exam a positive one or being able to deliver news about what is healthy in their eyes can really make their day and provide relief.

Additionally, many seniors live alone and may have lost much of the social connection they previously had from work, family, and friends. Try to engage them in something they like to talk about, whether it be their former careers, family, hobbies, or something that excites them and is positive that they enjoy talking about. This will also help you understand how they use their eyes and what their visual needs truly are.

2) Make your office safe

For many seniors, mobility is an issue. They may use a walker, cane, or wheelchair for ambulation. Some may need these tools but not bring them when they go out, due to embarrassment, so try to make your office as handicap accessible as possible. The obvious ones, such as handicapped parking areas and wheelchair ramps, are a must, but also think about how a patient needs to navigate within your office. Teach your staff how to manipulate and steer patients in wheelchairs and how to maneuver them into your pre-test space as well as getting them into your exam chair.

Pro Tip: Lift the footrest up to allow the patient to get as close to the chair as possible before sitting; then, once they are in the chair, put the footrest back down!

If your patients have trouble standing, have an area within the optical where they can sit down during the frame selection process and have the optician bring them frames to try on. This way the patient can still choose what frames they are interested in and not feel they are "being a bother” by needing to sit down.

3) Ask about visual demands

In addition to keeping patients safe within your office, you want to make sure they are safe at home. Ask whether the patient drives, whether they live with anyone, and what activities of daily living they manage at home. Some questions you may want to ask are:

  • Do they grocery shop, cook, pay the bills, and have any specific hobbies?
  • Do they pay bills on the computer or physically write checks?
  • Can they see to perform these tasks?

Better understanding your patients’ visual needs can help you better help them meet their needs at home.

Have any intake forms available in large print that can be offered to patients at check-in. Large print business cards, patient education, and referral information also be helpful. Since seniors have a higher incidence of cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration, you can plan ahead by providing material that is easier to read.

For those patients who have decreased best-corrected visual acuity, offer low vision services early in their disease course. Start with high powered near-only glasses which you can prescribe. If you don’t have your practice set up for low vision, know who does and refer. A low-vision referral early in the disease course can leave patients feeling hopeful that as their vision needs change, there are tools that can help them meet their needs.

If you want more resources and a quick guide to performing low-vision services in your office, check out more here.

4) Train staff well

Train your staff on how you want all patients, including elders, to be treated in your office. Treat everyone how you would want to be treated or how you would want your grandmother to be treated—in a respectful, caring, concerned manner. Sometimes older patients may require more time, repeating instructions, or mobility assistance. Be patient with them. Realize this person has lived a long life with many experiences and they can probably teach you something about life; be open to listening to what that might be!

5) Prepare in advance

Notify patients in advance as to whether they should bring a driver to their appointments. If you already know the patient and compliance may have been an issue in the past, ask them to bring someone else to the visit with them. Then ask the patient if it is ok for this guest to accompany them into the exam room. It’s always helpful to have an extra set of ears to retain everything that gets said during the course of the visit. This is especially true if there are any significant exam findings or further testing needs to be performed.

Family members or caregivers will appreciate the transparency and can help others who may be involved in that patient’s care understand the importance of follow-up visits or treatment plans.

Conclusion

We can all hope to live a long life that leads us to older adulthood. When that time comes, we would want to be treated with dignity, care, and respect. These are the same qualities we should be treating all our patients with and especially with a little extra TLC for our seniors. The tips outlined here can help you prepare your practice to best care for these cherished members of our community. Open your mind and your hearts to caring for these beloved patients.

covalentcareers
About Kristin White, OD

Dr. Kristin White is a graduate of New England College of Optometry in 2013. She completed a community health residency in 2014. She helped open and is currently the director of an optometry department within a community health center that …

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