Few situations could be more tragic for older adults than being treated as if they have Alzheimer’s disease when they really have a treatable health issue, such as a drug side effect or depression. Equally pathetic is not knowing what is happening or where to turn if Alzheimer’s or a movement disorder, such as Parkinson’s disease, is setting in. This is especially true for older people who live alone and away from family. It happens every day to thousands of mature adults. They end up malnourished and living in squalor, forgotten in suboptimal nursing facilities—or on the street.

Don’t let any of this happen to you.

Help is available—help that can ensure you get the right diagnosis and treatment. And, just like estate planning, it can assist you in making arrangements in advance for health and physical needs if you have the beginnings of an incurable and progressive age-related disease.


The doorway to help is through a process called a geriatric assessment. Besides physical and psychological health, a geriatric assessment evaluates whether activities of daily living are becoming challenging. Activities include ordinary tasks such as eating, bathing and dressing as well as taking medications, keeping appointments, paying bills and getting around.

The first step is to make an appointment with your primary care physician for a geriatric assessment. The doctor will give you a physical exam and interview you to assess activities of daily living. If an age-related health issue is found, the doctor may act as the point person for a team of specialists who will take care of your health needs and help you plan for the future, whether that be making arrangements for physical therapy, optimizing your home to help you live there safely, getting transportation or a visiting nurse service or home-delivered meals, or arranging for nursing home care. Or the doctor may refer you to a geriatric specialist to assess your health and act as the point person for multispecialty care.


A recent health alert by the division of geriatrics and palliative medicine at University at Buffalo, The State University of New York, gave guidance about when to arrange for a geriatric assessment of a parent, spouse or sibling by observing how that person manages the activities of daily living. It’s easy to see when someone close to you is becoming frail and physically or mentally challenged—but what about when you have to make that decision about yourself? Geriatric specialist Jullie Gray, principal at Aging Wisdom, a life-care-management firm in Seattle, says that a geriatric assessment may be wise if you answer yes to even one of these questions…

• Are you more forgetful, distracted and irritable than usual, and are you worried that your memory is failing?

• Do you feel not as steady on your feet, resulting in having a fall?

• Is taking care of your house, paying your bills and taking care of your health becoming more challenging?

• Do you have more than one chronic health problem?

• Are you worried about changes in your health and feel confused about what to do or who to turn to for help?


Whether or not you decide to have a geriatric assessment, there are ways to ease age-related challenges that you can do on your own. For one, you can optimize your living space with better lighting, grab rails, easy-to-reach cabinets and drawers, elevated toilets and open showers. Also, check out this Bottom Line Health Guide to Natural Relief for Parkinson’s Disease, which contains tips useful to other age-related disorders, and the Bottom Line Personal Guide to Alzheimer’s Disease: What Everyone Should Know, including information on misdiagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, prevention and treatment options.