Although old age itself is not a disease, the aging process involves changes in physiologic function that the health care team and the client need to understand to ensure the geriatric patient is as comfortable and happy as possible.
Following are the top 5 considerations in caring for older patients.
1. Special Nutritional Needs
As animals age, their metabolic rate and activity decrease, which leads to a decrease in caloric need by as much as 30% to 40%. Older animals also may need specific diets for health reasons (eg, osteoarthritis, kidney or liver disease, neoplasia). Commercial dietary formulas that attempt to address geriatric patients’ needs are available, but finding a single product that addresses all their nutritional needs can be difficult. The veterinary team should ensure an aging patient has proper nutrition, as it can impact quality of life.
2. Early Disease Detection
As animals age, metabolic changes occur and immune competence decreases, despite normal numbers of lymphocytes. Also, phagocytosis and chemotaxis decrease, resulting in less ability to fight infection and allowing for autoantibodies and immune-mediated diseases to develop. Early signs of a disease state may be masked by what the client considers signs of the normal aging process (eg, decreased appetite, lethargy, change in hair coat).