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Don't Let Medical Professionals Misdiagnose - Speak Up!

DO YOU SEE WHAT I SEE? A few months ago at the start of a busy day I gave my fiesty ninety year old mother a call. I was worried. She had been nauseous and a little feverish for the last few days. Alarmingly, she had lost her interest in cooking, her number one passion. On the phone she sounded confused and said she felt dizzy. She complained that her heart was pounding. I drop everything, relieved that finally, she has agreed to go to the hospital.

I provide the intake clerk with all my mother’s pertinent information - medical number, medications, my contact information. I provide most of her medical history. My mother describes her symptoms but she is not as sharp as she usually is. Her sentences are incomplete. Her words are slurred. I do my best to fill in the blanks. I emphasize that my mom is usually bright, vibrant articulate woman. This is not like her, I say. I don’t want anyone making assumptions about her capacity because of her age.

My fears are not unfounded. Health care professionals often mistakenly assume that older people who seem confused and disoriented have pre existing dementia or mental illness. A misdiagnosis of delirium, a relatively common experience of hospitalized older adults, can be life threatening.

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