In an age where Millennials have “got next” and the Internet is king, being young and tech-savvy has become the ultimate American virtue.
However, study after study is showing that America’s obsession with social media and online communication, ironically, has produce a generation of young people with fewer friendships, increased feelings of isolation and an inability to effectively communicate unplugged.
But with so much of the younger populations living online, where does that leave the elderly, whom seldom use the computer and look to more active populations for their most enriching interaction and engagement? It leaves them further disenfranchised. Studies show that isolated seniors experience a 59 percent greater risk of mental and physical decline and a 45 percent increase in their risk for death.
Fortunately, there’s a new program in Central and East Brooklyn, called Brookdale at Your Door, where seniors are the focus, and “healthy relationships” are built upon face-to-face contact, trust and expert care. Brookdale at Your Door checks in on seniors to make sure they are up to speed surrounding their mental and physical health.
The program, launched in June 2015, organizes doctors, nurses and dietitians as volunteers who meet with senior groups or at elder care centers 1-2 times a month to answer questions senior residents may have regarding their health.
“I’ve been advocating this since 2009 when I started residency, because the community has been lacking this for many, many years.” said Dr. Mason Pimsler, 49, a geriatrician at Brookdale’s Bristol Family Center, where his oldest patient is 110.
Dr. Pimsler said many of the senior residents he meets have been avoiding a doctor’s visit for a number of reasons, ranging from cultural barriers, to language barriers, concerns around costs, or simply, declining mental faculties.
“You have to be culturally sensitive, not only to the seniors, but also the younger generations. You can’t judge,” said Dr. Pimsler, who gives out his personal cell phone number to his patients.
At a recent visit to Tilden Senior Center on Mother Gaston Blvd. in Brownsville, Dr. Pimsler exhibited a clear gift in his ability to get seniors to relax and open up. In a small gymnasium that doubled as a dining hall and recreation room, Dr. Pimsler sat with about a dozen seniors, cracked jokes, shared medical updates, asked questions and then invited them to ask him about anything concerning their health.
The result of each visit, said Dr. Pimsler, is that many more seniors are now agreeing to visit the doctor’s office, where they sometimes didn’t want to go before.
“The question-and-answer sessions have been so helpful, because they start feeling comfortable, and then they say, ‘We’re going to come in for a visit.’ And once they come in for a visit, we find things,” he said. “I’m seeing patients in their 80s with low vitamin levels that have never been tested, lack of vitamin D, which research has shown has to do with cognitive impairment.”
Dr. Pimsler said a lot of senior residents ask questions about their medications and whether they’re taking them properly. He goes over a checklist with them called the Beers Criteria, which is a guideline for healthcare professionals to improve the safety of prescribing medications for older adults. In fact, the Beer’s Criteria places emphasis on deprescribing medication deemed unnecessary, helping reduce the problems of high adverse drug reactions.
The dosage for a blood pressure pill, for example, is not the same for someone 65 or older as for someone who is under 65. And a general internist may not be familiar with the Beers Criteria.
“I’m noticing doctors giving sleeping pills like Ambien in 10 mgs, which is contraindicated for people 65 or older. They could fall and break their hips,” he said. “Also, I’m seeing a lot of patients who are not getting the Shingles vaccine. Shingles is a very painful, debilitating and life-threatening disease. So the ones coming to the clinic, I’m able to adjust their medications for them or administer much-needed vaccines.”
Brookdale at Your Door has ongoing visits scheduled with senior groups and in senior centers around the neighborhood, including the Tilden Senior Center, Starret City’s JASA Senior Center, the Jamison House of Healing, amongst others.
Dr. Pimsler does complete works-ups with his patients, paying close attention to areas where he notes an upward trend, including the incidence of diabetes, obesity and HIV in elderly men. But, he said, there are other areas where things have gotten better for seniors:
“The treatments for diabetes have gotten a lot better. Also, there are fewer people dying from coronary disease, because treatments have also gotten much better. And for those seniors that come in for a checkup, I’m able to address some of their problems with cognitive impairment, which a lot of them had chalked up to just growing old.”
With Brookdale at Your Door, a little conversation, company and a lot of patient care are giving seniors in the community a reason to get social and stay social… and enjoy a longer life!
For more information or to schedule a site visit for your group or center by Brookdale at Your Door, email Sharon Devonish Leid at [email protected]ny.org or call 718-240-8670.