April 7th, 2009
09:56 AM ET

Take someone you love to the doctor - today

By Caleb Hellerman
CNN Medical Senior Producer

Last fall, I started getting worried about my father - just a vague sense something wasn’t right. He’d tell the same story, gripe about the same thing, one too many times. Plus, he’s 82 years old. My mother and brother said he was fine, but then something tipped me over the edge: After more than 50 years running his own small company, my father had decided to sell the business, and I was helping with paperwork. He’d been moaning and groaning about it forever, but when I sat down to put together a few spreadsheets – well, it was easy. I thought: he couldn’t handle this?

Maybe it was a medication. Maybe stress, or a touch of depression – all things that can mimic the early stages of dementia. Or maybe my mom and brother were right. I wasn’t sure where to start, so I called Dr. Thomas Perls, a gerontologist – a specialist in treating older people. I’d interviewed him before, and said I needed a favor. Where should I take my dad? What questions should I ask?

Dr. Perls told me I really ought to take him to a gerontologist, who wouldn’t focus on an aching hip, or a memory problem, or incipient diabetes – but all of it, together. And because I was worried about memory loss, someone who could order a detailed neuropsychological exam. And then I took a big step: I told my dad I was worried about him…. and he said sure, he’d see a new doctor as long as I set it up.

But that was January, and now it’s April. Something always came up. Or maybe I didn’t want to go, myself. But then I noticed that today is something called “Take a Loved One to the Doctor Day.” It’s organized by radio superstar Tom Joyner, to encourage African-Americans to get regular checkups. We’re not African-American – but when I got the flier and saw the headline, how could I ignore what’s going on in my own family?

So today, I’m calling about that appointment. Maybe – I hope – it won’t be any big deal. But it’s my dad, and I owe it to him.

Have any advice about finding the right help for an aging parent?

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