I’m a working mother with two teenagers who live at home. My parents are relatively healthy, but they are getting older (81 and 77 respectively). What can I do to be proactive about their future health? Concerned in Colorado, 52

I’m so glad you asked. Not nearly enough people think like you. If we all took care of just a few of the many issues your parents will surely face in the next decade, care giver stress could be greatly reduced. The best thing you can do, starting today, is understand at a baseline level exactly what issues your parents are dealing with. Lay out what I call the 4 basic categories in everyone’s life – medical, financial, emotional, and social – and methodically determine ways to help.

When it comes to medical issues, talk with your parents and be sure they are honest with you. If there are medical issues to face, speak with their doctor (with their permission of course). Figure out what medications they are taking, see if those medications can be cut back, if there are any side effects, and if any of the meds are contra-indicated. Before meeting with their doctor, be sure to do your homework and have intelligent questions ready. Write them down. Doctors will take more time if you are well informed and prepared.

Financial issues can also be tough to broach, but you have to do it. Make sure your parents have a realistic understanding of their monthly income and expenses. Your parents’ generation is living longer than any before it, and many elderly are outliving their savings. After all, they didn’t expect to live so long. Suggest ways to cut back expenses where possible. Something as minor as having the newspaper delivered instead of purchased at a newsstand every day can make a difference. Have them buy generic drugs whenever possible.

Emotional issues vary from family to family and individual to individual. But I have found most elderly want to know they’ll be supported in their quest to maintain their independence for as long as possible. Communicate that to them. Let them know you are on their side and will be there when their time of need arrives. If there are any old family grudges or hurts that haven’t been resolved, and there usually are, try to bring them into the open. Your elders will want to let go of this emotional baggage before they pass on. The sooner it is dealt with, the better.

I say every generation has a 100% mortality rate. If someone’s exit from this world has been planned and lovingly guided, the process can actually be an enjoyable one. Peace comes to those whose interests have been considered, protected, and embraced. And you can really help make this happen.

Over the last 40 years, Dr. Marion (Marion Somers, Ph.D.) has worked with thousands of seniors and their caregivers as a geriatric care manager and elder care expert. It is now her goal to help caregivers everywhere through her book (“Elder Care Made Easier”), iPhone apps (www.elder911.net) web site, columns, public service announcements, and more. For more information, visit www.DrMarion.org

Dr Marion Somers

Last Modified September 8, 2010 @ 10:11 am
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