Watching my mom get older has reinforced my understanding that each day is precious and that our days on this earth are far too few. It has also given me a glimpse into a time of life that in many ways is culturally different than my own.
Older people think about, talk about and worry about things you and I take for granted.Sometimes it seems trivial. Other times, their concerns are focused on issues I never recognized were issues.
Mobility is a big concern with most seniors. The ability to get around the house, drive, garden, etc., has a tremendous impact on their quality of life. Take that away, and they become virtual shut-ins with little hope for better days. Lack of mobility is also dangerous. According to the CDC, the leading cause of death among people age 65 and older is falling down.
Seniors think about their health a lot. Sometimes it seems as if most seniors are scheduling an appointment, wondering if they need to go in to address a new symptom, or hoping a new drug or vitamin will work better than the last one.
These hopes and fears are evident in their conversations. If you ask me how I'm doing (depending on our relationship), I will usually tell you I'm doing "great" and share the latest about my family, new projects I am working on or the latest progress of chiropractic. If you ask the typical senior the same question, they will tell you they're doing "OK" and proceed to provide you with an update of their most recent health challenges and remedies.
I tell you all this to set the stage for what I believe to be one of our greatest missed opportunities. At present, there are 47 million seniors living in the U.S.; one of every seven people is over the age of 65. That number is constantly growing and is expected to double in the next few decades. Looking at it from a chiropractic perspective, there are almost 800 seniors for every practicing DC.
With so many seniors, one would think geriatric chiropractic would be a specialty like sports, pediatrics, etc. But it isn't something you hear much about, at least not yet.
The reason may be that geriatric chiropractic isn't all that exciting. Seeing your star athlete win a gold medal and then credit your chiropractic care must be a big thrill; as is hearing grateful parents thank you for the chiropractic care that improved the health and wellness of their infant or small child. But let's face it: caring for the elderly is much less glamorous. However, there are some valid reasons why our profession should focus on this special population:
- Your community is filled with seniors who would greatly benefit from your care. Coming to see you will keep them mobile and probably be one of the highlights of their day.
- Chiropractic has the power to maintain mobility and function far better than any other form of care, helping seniors sustain a higher quality of life that is invaluable.
- Drug use among seniors is insane. Almost 90 percent are on at least one prescription, and more than a third take five drugs or more concurrently.1 I know chiropractic care can help reduce the need for these drugs.
- As seniors spend much of their time talking about their health, wouldn't you like to hear them talk about chiropractic, as opposed to the latest drug they are taking?
- Seniors are more likely than any other group to tell others when their care is working for them. They tell their friends, family and anyone who will sit still long enough to listen.
If you didn't grow up relating to your grandparents, talking to "old people" may seem a little boring, confusing and even intimidating. But these could very well be your best patients. Of course, you'll have to make the first move. Ask your staff to contact senior living facilities and local organizations. You can offer a free talk about healthy living, wellness and chiropractic as a way to open the door.
The Foundation for Chiropractic Progress is also providing resources for you, your patients and your community. These resources are free to all DCs regardless of whether you are a foundation member. You can access these resources at www.f4cp.org/seniors.
Think about how you can serve seniors and then look for your opportunities. Once you get going, you will be surprised at the momentum.
Author's Note: My thanks to Richard Brown, DC, secretary-general of the World Federation of Chiropractic, for his insights that started me thinking about this topic.
- Qato DM, et al. Changes in prescription and over-the-counter medication and dietary supplement use among older adults in the United States, 2005 vs 2011. JAMA Intern Med, 2016 Apr;176(4):473-82.
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