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Tips to Help the Elderly through Their Medical Tests

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What seems like a simple medical test to the average adult can be significantly more challenging to the elderly person whose health may be more frail. Here are a few reasons to take extra care when an older person requires a medical test.

  • The elderly are more likely to have vision, hearing, and cognitive impairments that make it difficult for them to follow instructions or understand what must happen for the specimen to be properly collected.
  • Older people have more problems with balance and mobility, factors that can make some samples physically harder or more dangerous to provide.
  • Even a blood test can be more difficult because the skin is thinner, the subcutaneous tissue is less resilient, and the veins are more fragile and prone to tearing when punctured. The person may prefer one phlebotomist in particular who handles them well.
  • For a person with dementia, even a brief sample collection procedure can be traumatic and lead to a catastrophic reaction by the patient. In this case, the need for testing must be even more carefully scrutinized.
  • On top of all the physical and emotional challenges, financial constraints and details can deter an elderly person from undergoing a test that can make a significant difference in the person’s health care and quality of life.

This article is part of a collection of articles offering tips for taking medical tests that includes Coping with Test Pain, Discomfort, and Anxiety, Tips on Blood Testing, and Tips to Help Children through Their Medical Tests. Sources used in the development of this article are included in the Coping with Test Pain article. 


If testing is a burden for someone you know, talk to the physician about the situation. "Always discuss why the test is needed and how it will affect ongoing care or alter the course of therapy," emphasizes geriatrician Rebecca Elon, MD, MPH, Medical Director of North Arundel Senior Care, Severna Park, Maryland. Be sure that any test ordered will provide necessary information for clinical decision making. The following are suggestions to help elderly patients through some of the practical matters of collecting a test sample.

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