It's an inevitable part of aging. By age 75, our eyes respond more slowly to the glaring lights of a hospital. We perceive the shiny, well-buffed floors as slippery, causing missteps and falls.
Our skin is thinner, making us more vulnerable to pressure sores from rock-hard mattresses. We chill more easily. The noise from monitors and other gadgets in an acute-care room or emergency department can interfere with our ability to communicate with medical staff.
As a result, older patients may find they are navigating a minefield in hospitals and other medical facilities that have been designed to be friendly to healthcare workers but not seniors.
“The hospital can be a hazardous place for anyone, but particularly for the elderly,” said Dr. Diana Anderson, a trained architect who is completing her internal medicine residency at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. “Hospitalization is one of the major risk factors for older people. We can end up seeing irreversible decline in their functional status after they're admitted. This decline cannot always be attributed to a progression of their presenting medical problem.”
Anderson, who plans to enter a geriatrics fellowship this year, has coined and trademarked the term “dochitect,” for the type of medicine she hopes to practice. She is the rare person who combines medical knowledge with know-how about how to design health facilities. She sees a need to use this combination of expertise to make healthcare environments safer and more comfortable for the elderly.
The U.S. Census Bureau has estimated that the population over age 65 will increase 75% from today's levels by 2029, when the last of the 76 million baby boomers reach retirement age. Medical facilities, from hospitals to medical offices, are gradually beginning to respond to the needs of this growing population.