The first assessments of the health of an elderly person involve questionnaires or a collection of basic information on the patient's well-being. Pain, cognitive function, stress and social support are common targets of assessment for elderly patients. These assessments are usually conducted by a health-care provider, sometimes after a family member has noticed a change in behaviour or functioning.
Health-care providers may ask a series of questions about the patient's pain, or apply pressure to parts of the body that are sources of pain. A physician or nurse may ask the patient to describe the pain (sharp, throbbing, aching) or ask him to estimate how long the pain lasts. Activities that precede the pain or ways of dealing with the pain are also things the health-care provider may want to know. A physician or nurse may apply pressure to an area of the body to identify the specific source of pain.
There are a variety of testing tools that are used to assess cognitive function in the elderly, including the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), the Informant Questionnaire on Cognitive Decline in the Elderly (IQCDE), the Mini-Cog and simple observation. These tests may ask the patient to recall the calendar date, remember three items that the health-care provider names, repeat a sentence or phrase or follow instructions. Patients should not be assessed for cognitive function if they are in pain or are in the process of receiving treatment. These tests can be used to help physicians diagnose mental disorders such as Alzheimer's and dementia.
Stress can be a determinant for the onset of depression or other mental disorders. Health-care providers use a series of questions and observations to assess the amount of stress affecting an elderly patient. Physicians or nurses may ask a patient about any major life changes that they are dealing with, such as the death or declining health of a spouse. They may also ask how the patient has been handling these changes, or if the patient has experienced anxiety, irritability or sadness. Physical signs of stress include headaches, muscle tension, pain and trouble sleeping.
Social support is an important factor for maintaining health in elderly patients. Health-care providers can assess social support by asking the elderly person about her relationships with family and friends. The physician or nurse may ask the patient how many friends or family members she has recently spoken with. They may also ask if the patient has received assistance from anyone, or whom the patient would contact if she needed assistance. Good social support can prevent an elderly person from feeling isolated, contribute to a positive mental attitude and increase feelings of self-worth and better overall health.