Seniors represent one of the fastest-growing populations in Canada. This year, for the first time, Ontario is home to more people over 65 than children under 15. At this stage of life, a person’s health needs become increasingly important and, at times, complex. Every year St. Joe’s sees 56,000 visits from seniors—they are one of our largest patient population groups.
“We commonly see seniors who are actively thriving in their 90’s and 100’s in our community,” said Melanie York, a Geriatric Emergency Management (GEM) nurse in the Emergency Department (ED).
For seniors who are healthy and independent, we want them to remain active so that they continue to thrive as they grow older. We also support those who are more vulnerable; people who experience memory loss, are socially isolated or have become prone to falling. We have developed new ways to serve this growing patient population by developing a wraparound approach that connects them to a variety of specialized health care professionals who work together to meet their needs.
For many seniors the Emergency Department (ED) is a vital resource. Some patients come to the ED because they feel unwell, but they find it hard to describe exactly what is wrong. “As we age, minor changes in our daily routines can have a significant impact on the body’s functioning. I see patients who are confused and anxious, but they may have just skipped a couple meals,” said Melanie York, a Geriatric Emergency Management (GEM) nurse.
A younger person would be able to compensate for the loss of nutrients; for seniors it can result in a longer recovery time and a trip to the hospital as well.” As a GEM nurse, Melanie receives consultation requests from physicians and ED nurses to assess seniors who come to the ED. The assessment focuses on the patient’s lifestyle including the strength of their social networks, mobility and cognitive functioning.
“One of the things I’m on the lookout for is the three Ds—delirium, dementia or depression. I assess both their current condition, as well identify the underlying psychosocial issues or changes in their lifestyle that may influence their wellbeing—the risk factors that aren’t immediately visible.”
If a patient is well enough to go home but requires follow up, Melanie will refer them to our Geriatric Clinic where they can access our interprofessional team who can address every health issue associated with aging. One of the first people they will meet is Rosemary Fine, our nurse clinician. She’s been around long enough to see patients come and go and come back as they experience new challenges.
“We see lots of immigrants who came after the second world war, “she said. “They’d often travelled all over before coming to Canada and sometimes that experience can influence their health outcomes, but others just have fascinating stories.”
Learn more about our Geriatric team and what inspires them to do the work they do:
Grace Jokinen, Occupational Therapist
“For all new patients referred to the clinic, I complete a comprehensive assessment of their cognition, function and mobility. I also run weekly memory classes for patients with mild to moderate dementia. The classes focus on interactive brain exercises to, not only help their short term memory but also to maintain their independence in the community. Research shows that a social environment helps patients learn and practice the tips and strategies we share. Patients are also able to make new friends in the group which is so important at this stage of life.”
Karol Pintier, Physiotherapist
“Injuries from falls can completely change a person’s lifestyle. I work with patients to prevent injury by completing mobility and safety assessments —making sure they have necessary assistive devices such as canes or walkers. I also use exercise-based therapy to enhance their level of movement. My goal is to teach and empower patients to sustain the gains they’ve made and maintain their level of independence.”
Barbara Nicole Ross, Social Worker
“Many patients come to the clinic when they are most vulnerable and least able to cope. They face several challenges at this stage in life including changes in their physical or mental capacity, desire to live independently, family conflict and financial challenges—all of which I attempt to immediately address or assist in future planning to best meet their needs and desires. As one of two social workers in the clinic, I also support patients and their families as they navigate the larger healthcare system.”
Sarah Gillespie, Speech Language Pathologist
“I work with seniors who have difficulties with swallowing and/or communication due to age-related changes or illness such as dementia, stroke or Parkinson’s disease. My goals are to minimize risk of aspiration or choking and make eating enjoyable again. I work closely with the dietician on our team if changes need to be made to a patient’s diet. I also play an educational role with caregivers so they can effectively communicate with their family member even if their speech has been limited.”
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