Healthnetwork’s Susan Locke offers advice for caring for an elderly loved one . . .
Thanks to the marvels of medical science, our parents are living longer than ever before. Adults over the age of 80 are the fastest-growing segment of the population. Most will spend years dependent on others for the most basic needs. That burden often falls on their baby boomer children.
If you find yourself in the role of caring for your parents or an elderly loved one, there are some things you can do to prepare for this endeavor.
• Prepare for the journey ahead. Taking on primary responsible for a parent affects not just you, but your spouse and your children. To lessen conflicts, engage your siblings in your plan as well.
• Try to look at concerns from your parent’s perspective. A huge concern for an aging parent is their loss of control. Be sure to make your parent feel that at least some aspect, even if minute, is under their control.
• Try to afford your parent his/her independence for as long as possible. Lack of independence can be very frightening for someone as they age. If possible, it’s better to gradually increase their level of care.
• Develop a management plan for their finances, including their bills and health plans.
• Keep up to date with their health issues.
In order for your parent to maintain the best health possible, it may be of benefit to have a geriatrics specialist become your parent’s primary care doctor. Although internists regularly care for elderly patients, geriatricians have a particular interest and expertise in the issues of the elderly, including many of the social concerns that can have significant effects on your family.
One of the most common concerns in an aging parent is memory loss. Some memory loss with aging is expected. When memory issues begin interfering with daily life and relationships, it may be a sign of Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia. Common symptoms of dementia include: recent memory loss, difficulty performing familiar tasks, problems with language, time and place disorientation, poor judgment, problems with abstract thinking, misplacing things, mood fluctuations, and loss of initiative.
Any of these symptoms should be reported to your parent’s physician. If your parent receives a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, you may want to ask these questions of their physician:
• Why do you think it is Alzheimer’s disease and not something else?
• What stage of disease is my parent in now? How fast will the disease progress/what can I expect in the future?
• Can my parent live independently? How does Alzheimer’s disease impact the general health of my parent?
• What medications or other non-drug therapies are available and what are their side effects?
• What safeguards should I have in the home?
• Are there any clinical trials that might be helpful?
Caring for a parent with aging issues can be an emotionally exhausting experience. If you are the primary caregiver, you need to take care of yourself and maintain a strong support system.
Susan Locke, MD , is Healthnetwork Foundation’s Medical Director.
Thank you, Dr. Savage, for stopping by to see my dad again tonight. I appreciate your personal interest and attention. I can honestly say that your talk to him was the turning point thus far in his recovery. Your “bedside manner,” calm presence and reassuring demeanor meant more than the medicine you prescribed.
For an old school Italian, it was your words and his confidence in you that “snapped him out of his daze” and allowed him to willingly accept your advice.
Thank you again for your professionalism and caring. It is obvious that you care for the patients and my dad is getting better because of it.
God bless you!
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