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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soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Jim Manley

    In the Atlanta area, contact Gail Horton of Solutions for Seniors. Gail has been very helpful to my family in guiding us to the right assisted living option as well as in dealing with the aging and eventually hospice process. She is a former Geriatric Nurse and very empathetic and compassionate.

    April 7, 2009 at 10:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Alex Lickerman

    We all resist doctor's appointments I think when things are going well, or at least not too wrongly, telling ourselves little is likely to be wrong. Denial is insidious and works against proactive management of our health. My only piece of advice in finding a good doctor is to ask the support staff at whatever clinic or hospital practice you're considering who THEY think is good. In my experience, they're almost always right.

    Alex Lickerman, M.D.

    April 7, 2009 at 13:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Bonnie Sayles

    I've been the principal caregiver for my mother since she was 85. She is now 92. She cared for my dad from age 75-85 after he had a stroke, so she had always kept it together.
    I got her an internist, and when the memory problems and strange thinking problems developed, started taking her to a neurologist. She is on Exelon and Namenda, which have greatly slowed the progression of dementia. She also had her first colonoscopy after being under my care, and the doctor found a large polyp that had to removed by a specialist at a teaching hospital. Wishing you the BEST in caring for your father! We all we need our children's help one day.

    April 7, 2009 at 21:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Lindsay Shearer

    I am almost 62 years old and am trying to deal with medical issues for my 85 year old father who lives thousands of miles away from me. Through that process, I found a few resources that have been incredibly helpful. I thought I might share them with you in the hopes that they can be helpful to someone else.

    Many companies have employee assistance programs (EAPs) that may be able to connect you to elder care resources anywhere in the country. This is helpful for anyone, but especially helpful for someone like me who does not live close to his or her parents.

    Every state has at least one Council on Aging, which were established by the Federal government to help keep elders in their homes. They can help you find a variety of services, often at little or no cost … such as installing wheelchair ramps and hand rails in your home, as well as arranging for some in-home therapy and respite care for the caregiver. Other organizations that can help you find resources you need are social service agencies; hospitals; or religious, community and senior advocacy organizations. Your local United Way is often a good resource to help locate these agencies.

    However, the greatest task is determining when your parent can no longer live alone and how to handle that eventuality. All too often we are thrown into the situation of taking care of our elderly parents because of a sudden illness. We don't have the time to really think about what it will mean until the situation is upon us…and then it's an emotional decision and not thoroughly thought out.

    I received some information from my employer, CIGNA, that I found to be particularly helpful in thinking about how I was going to go about this, and to help my brother, who is the primary caregiver:

    Be realistic: There are a few questions you should ask yourself before making any final decision. Do you really have the time to be an elder caregiver? Are your expectations realistic? Is your communication with your parent good? Are your living arrangements appropriate? Do you (and your spouse) have a good relationship with your parent's primary doctor? Does that physician listen to your questions and concerns?

    Don’t try to do it all alone: See if another relative can help a little each week, or consider paying a health care worker to come in for a few hours each week. Some communities have day care programs for the elderly. Making use of these resources even occasionally will give you a break and lighten your load.

    Ask for help, but be specific: Telling your siblings that you sure could use their help isn’t enough. If you need your sister to take Dad to the doctor next Tuesday at 3 p.m., ask for that help specifically. Does Mom need groceries? Make a list and ask your brother to stop by the store tomorrow.

    Get support: Your doctor, local hospital, public health department or faith community can refer you to support groups for people taking care of aging parents. It helps to talk to others who are in a situation similar to yours. You’re not alone!

    Take care of yourself: Your own well-being is very important to your ability to care for your parent. Be sure to take time out for yourself to do the things you like to do, whether that’s shopping, taking a walk in the woods or going to a movie. You can’t be a good caretaker if you’re not taking care of yourself.

    I hope some of this is useful information for you.


    April 9, 2009 at 14:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Lisa

    I'm hoping my dad who's already in his mid 60's would comply to what the doctor is telliing. I think it's harder to make them follow the instructions given. By the way, you might be interested in one of the most complete and helpful sites on nursing home clothing.Thanks and more power!

    March 9, 2011 at 02:13 | Report abuse | Reply

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