Doctors & Elderly Patients

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk


"Honor Thy Father and Mother"


This is the only commandment that has a reward attached to it.  The reward promises the adult who follows this commandment that he or she will live long on earth.  Rarely is there an offspring who carries this request into reality.  Many children enjoy fault finding, criticizing and ridiculing the parents that have given so much to their children, often denying giving comfort and material goods to themselves.

This commandment is one of the ten that we should heed.  It is the only one that has a reward attached to it if it is practiced.  Unfortunately it is rarely practiced.  Old agers are looked upon as senile, useless, and labeled in a negative way.  They are segregated, their feelings, opinions and needs are ignored.  It is rare that they are honored and treated with respect.  Regardless of the schooling, the learning, the knowledge of the elderly person, he or she is minimized and is too often denigrated, placed in positions where he or she is not taken for “full”, misled, placated, and considered a “has been.”  Only if they are wealthy or Einstein reincarnated are the elderly considered worthy of some attention.  Their ideas, thoughts, and directions are ignored and they are considered minimalized, senile human beings.  Their opinions, expressions, and realities are too often ignored.  Physicians are not exempt from minimalizing their elderly patients, unless they are wealthy and can pay fully or more than the average than others for their care.

Aside from the age segregation that the older persons suffer and their thoughts which are minimalized,  their psychic or physical pain is not considered nor taken seriously.  If they are too demanding or needy, they are ignored or treated with contempt.

It is a reality that doctors cannot reverse the age of a human being.  Perhaps they cannot cure a disease or an affliction that the elderly patient experiences.  They can, however, respect their patients and do all that is possible to relieve them of their pain and/or suffering.  

 There are specialists who will desert a patient when they do not feel that they want to deal with someone they no longer want to care for.  Perhaps they cannot do a miracle for the individual, perhaps they do not like him, perhaps there is no absolute healing, or they prefer a patient that can pay privately rather than through insurance.  Without asking the indicated individual, they will transfer him to a student, a less experienced physician, or a physician who is about to retire and wants patients that are not too demanding or special.  Such physicians are known to perform such a transfer without asking for permission from the patient.

It is essential that the older patient must let the physician know that he objects to the “treatment” (behavior) of a change without permission and stand up for his right to make the decision.  Let us, as human beings and as Jewish people, know that the physician is not a deity.  We have a right to self determination and to be treated with respect and dignity.  Let the physician be aware of this as well as the ten commandments!!!


 Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the author of several books and articles.

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