Speak Up to Get the Atrial Fibrillation Treatment You Deserve

October 7, 2008 7:56 AM CT

I’m always concerned about the communication problems between atrial fibrillation patients and their doctors and am constantly on the lookout for ways to improve that. I find that so many afib patients are intimidated by their doctors, and thus don’t always ask the questions they would like. That means that they don’t get the care that they need and deserve.

Two studies that shed some light on this dynamic were mentioned in a recent NY Times article, In ‘Sweetie’ and ‘Dear,’ a Hurt for the Elderly.

According to the article, elderspeak, such as “dear” or “sweetie”, or being talked down to or ignored, not only rankles us, but can have health consequences as well.

A study of those over age 50 by Dr. Becca Levy at Yale University and her fellow researchers found that those with positive perceptions of aging lived 7.5 years longer than those with negative perceptions. Being talked down to created negative perceptions and thus worse health. Significantly, this had an even bigger effect than exercising or not smoking.

Health care workers can be the worst offenders, says Kristine Williams, a nurse gerontologist and associate professor at the University of Kansas School of Nursing. She and a team of researchers studied the effects of elderspeak in a nursing home. The findings, which will be published in an upcoming issue of The American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias, concluded that elderspeak sends the message that the patient is incompetent.

Yet Dr. Levy of Yale sees little movement among healthcare professionals to reduce or eliminate elderspeak, even though it’s now recognized as being belittling to patients.

Read:  In ‘Sweetie’ and ‘Dear,’ a Hurt for the Elderly

So what does this mean to you as a patient?

If you feel disrespected or insulted by being addressed as “Dear” or Sweetie”, it’s up to you to help others address you appropriately. Speak up early, speak up often, so that you get the respect you deserve and create channels for more effective communication with your doctors and healthcare team.

The doctors and nurses where I go respectfully address me as Mrs. Hills, and I address my doctors as Dr. and others as Mrs., Ms., or Mr., unless they request otherwise.

It’s completely appropriate to ask others to communicate with us as adults, not children. If your healthcare provider doesn’t appreciate that, run away. If he or she can’t even provide you with that level of respect, then you won’t get proper care — care that most of us are paying dearly for.

Please share your thoughts and comments on this at the Atrial Fibrillation Blog.