Five Questions to Ask Your Doctor

doctor speaking with older man

Almost no one enjoys a visit to see the doctor, especially if you’re facing treatment for a medical condition. However, understanding the process can make the experience less intimidating and allow you to obtain the greatest possible benefit from the process. Communication is an essential part of the collaboration you form with your doctor in deciding on the best possible course for care. Asking your doctor these questions during your next visit will help ensure that you receive the answers you need to make informed medical decisions.

1. What is my diagnosis and what is your suggested course of treatment?

As scary as it may be, it’s essential to know what you’re dealing with in order to make an informed decision. If the news is bad, your doctor will undoubtedly do everything possible to help you deal with the possible shock. Your doctor will probably already also have a suggested treatment in mind. This is the time to ask about alternatives. For instance, you may inquire about whether a lumpectomy rather than a complete mastectomy and chemotherapy is a viable treatment for breast cancer. Take whatever time you need to absorb your doctor’s statements and responses to your questions, and don’t be afraid to probe further about anything you don’t understand.

2. What risks or side effects are associated with the suggested treatment?

Many effective treatments have few or no side effects, but the side effects for treating conditions like heart disease or cancer can potentially be serious. Your doctor has almost certainly considered possible side effects or risks whatever treatments he or she has suggested, so don’t be afraid to ask.

3. What happens if nothing happens?

For some conditions the standard treatment is no affirmative treatment at all. Instead, a process called “watchful waiting” calls for you to monitor your condition combined with periodic visits to the doctor’s office to gauge whether your condition has progressed. In other cases, your doctor will suggest an affirmative treatment, but you should still ask what he or she expects to take place if you decide against treatment.

4. Are there things I can do in addition to or instead of your suggested treatment?

Some conditions have more than one accepted course of treatment. For instance, if you have high readings of “bad” LDL cholesterol, your doctor may suggest medication. However, if your cholesterol isn’t too high, you may be able to reduce elevated cholesterol levels through diligent diet and exercise. It can’t hurt to ask about alternative treatments for whatever condition your doctor has prescribed. Your doctor should not be offended by the question.

5. How much will treatment cost, and how much will my Medicare or insurance cover?

You may feel uncomfortable asking about costs, but there is no reason to begin treatment without knowing how much, if you’ll be expected to pay any of the expenses out of pocket. If you are working with a doctor who is associated with a concierge service, you’ll need to ask about any costs over and above your regular monthly fee. If you have no insurance, this is the time to ask about payment plans.

You may feel uneasy about asking these questions, but your doctor is accustomed to answering patients’ questions. If you don’t receive satisfactory responses from your doctor for any of your questions, you are well within your rights to request a second opinion. On the other hand, knowing the answers to these questions is the first step toward a successful treatment of your condition.

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7 Ways to Help Elderly Loved Ones Age Independently

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Watching a loved one age is never easy. Declining physical and mental conditions can tend to make the aged more dependent on others. Some dependence is unavoidable. While you naturally want to make things as easy as possible for your loved one, it’s usually healthier for them to maintain their independence as much as possible, for as long as possible. Here are seven actionable ways you can help your loved one transition into independent aging.

1. Avoid Coddling

As a family or friend caregiver, you probably have natural instincts that prompt you to do everything possible for your aging loved one. Those instincts are to be complimented, but too much care—that tends toward coddling—is to be avoided if you want your loved one to age independently. A good rule of thumb is; if they can do it safely, let them. If they can’t do it alone or safely, offer assistance. For example, you might let your loved one use the microwave oven alone, but not the gas range.

2. Let Them Set The Pace

Caregivers who have reared children in the past know that children grow into independence at their own pace. In reverse, it’s best to take cues from your aging loved one as to how much assistance—or how little—they need from you as time goes on.

3. Provide Access to Tools That Support Their Independence

With over 40 million people over the age of 65, there are more accommodations than ever before for the aging population. Grocery stores have battery-powered scooters for the elderly and disabled, meal delivery services are available, and geriatric products are available through mail order.

Your aging loved one may not know of all the things that are available that can prolong their independent lifestyle. Help them by providing information and access to these tools. Show them how to operate the grocery store scooter for the first time. Introduce them to the local Meals on Wheels representative. Subscribe them to catalogs that carry geriatric products like support stockings and articulating bedside trays.

4. Listen to Concerns

One of the most overlooked ways to help elderly loved ones age independently is to listen to their concerns and frustrations. What may seem like an insurmountable issue for them, may be easily resolved through listening and focused conversation. For instance, your loved one may struggle with going downstairs to do laundry. Until your conversation, they may not realize your willingness to help with procuring a stackable washer/dryer unit for placement on the main floor.

5. Help With the Search for an Independent Living Community

In the past, the aged typically went from their own homes, straight into a nursing home. Independent living communities didn’t exist just a few decades ago. When your loved one can no longer manage the big house and property where they’ve lived for years, you can help them prolong their independent lifestyle by helping them to choose an independent living community.

6. Help to Modify the Environment

The living environment can be modified with a common household toolbox and some clever accessories and adjustments. This can help your aging loved one to continue being independent for as long as possible. Take a day and consider doing such things as:

  • Install a rail inside the shower and next to the toilet for mobility help
  • Place floor items like magazines, knitting baskets and shoe bins on stools and chairs to avoid having to bend over
  • Remove tripping hazards like cords and slippery area rugs
  • Lower kitchen and pantry shelves to avoid having to reach up high
  • Replace glass and china with plastic and Corian dishware to avoid breakage

6. Provide Telephone Access

One of the scariest aspects of living independently for the aged is not being able to reach someone when help is needed. Make it easy for your loved one to call you by programming your cell number into their phone. Subscribe to an emergency assistance provider service for them so all they have to do is press a button if they have a problem and need professional help right away.

These seven ways of helping your loved one age independently will make them—and you—feel safer and more secure; knowing they are living as full and independent a life as possible.

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The Importance of Preventing Isolation as We Age

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Isolation is literally a killer, especially as people become older. Social isolation can produce detrimental effects comparable to those of obesity, smoking, or diabetes, according to scientific evidence. The potential results are devastating, including a weakened immune system, cardiovascular disease, depression, stroke, cognitive decline, cancer, and early death.

The risks associated with isolation are widespread: according to the National Council on Aging, one of every six seniors – both male and female – is at risk of crippling isolation. Older women are even more at risk, with six of every ten facing a risk of isolation, oftentimes due to widowhood. Staying social is an essential element to avoiding isolation and aging well.

Minimize Health Risks and Depression

For seniors, staying social is the key to minimizing the serious physical health risks associated with isolation. Maintaining social connections can also greatly reduce depression. Along with staying social, making an effort to improve cognitive and motor skills can also reduce depression and anxiety as seniors age.

Stay Social, Stay Involved

Maintaining ties with family and friends is vital to preventing isolation. However, seniors who do not have family members living close by need not be resigned to spending their days and nights in isolation. Volunteering in a local school or neighborhood club, or even taking public transportation downtown gets seniors out of the house and in contact with other people.

Taking an exercise class, seeing a show or going for a dip in the community pool provides double benefits: the activity itself is enjoyable and each setting provides the opportunity to meet new people. Interaction with others in a relaxed setting provides an ideal environment for making new friends and preventing isolation.

Make the Effort

Of course, there is nothing wrong with occasionally spending time reading a good book or simply relaxing at home. But making the effort to leave the house and interact with others can greatly enhance the quality of life as you age. You will also reduce your risk of facing serious health challenges associated with isolation.

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Elder Care First Steps — Beginning Your Journey

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Watching our parents age and then decline is one of life's great complexities. On one hand, it can be a gift to have a parent live a full and rewarding life. On the other hand, it is a challenge to know how to prepare for, and eventually take, the journey of elder care in a way that honors everyone involved. Here are 3 steps to take when beginning your journey.

1. Be transparent

Honesty--with your parent, with your partner, and with yourself--is of the utmost importance. Call a family meeting, if necessary. Enlist the help of siblings. Don't wait until you are burnt out to be truthful about how you feel. If your parent asks questions that lend themselves to discussing in plain terms the need for additional care, gently take that opportunity, as this can help build trust.

2. Be gradual

Selling your parent's home and moving him or her into your home or a nursing home may be the right decision down the road, but it may not be the right decision today. Consider hiring in-home help for your parent (such as companion, housekeeping, or transportation assistance), as this is often the first step in eldercare. Research community resources (senior centers, home health agencies, etc.), as these are a caregiver's best-kept secret.

3. Be educated

You probably landed on this article because you want to be educated, which means you are already on the right track! Here are some specifics: Find out what legal tools and documents are already in place. For instance, does your loved one already have someone designated to make important medical decisions? Does your loved one have a will or a power of attorney? Answers to these questions are good to know well in advance of needing them. Also, learn as much as you can about any medical issues--even minor ones--facing your loved one. If possible, go to medical appointments. Practically speaking, make sure you round up all of your loved one's critical information--Social Security number, list of medications, insurance information, etc.--to keep it at your fingertips. Talk to professionals. Keep a designated notebook filled with everything you learn. Finally, take a deep breath. Your love for and loyalty to your family member is clear or you wouldn't even be entertaining the idea of embarking on this eldercare journey. Know that you aren't the first one to struggle with conflicting emotions and you won't be the last. Give yourself time to adjust to this new chapter in life, and remember to take care of yourself along the way!

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7 Signs Your Loved One May Need Additional Care

Signs Your Loved One May Need Additional Care

Sometimes, it can be challenging for caregivers to know when a loved one needs additional care. The caregiver is often too close to the loved one to notice subtle changes that happen on a daily basis. In other instances, the caregiver may be reluctant to relinquish total control over care for the person they have spent a lifetime loving. This may blind them to the need for additional care that is outside the abilities of the caregiver. Here are seven signs your loved one may need additional care.

1. Medication is Not Being Managed Well

When a loved one is taking multiple medications, making sure that they are taken on schedule, and that refills are obtained on time, can be extremely difficult, both for the senior and the caregiver. If you notice more instances where medication is being managed poorly, additional help may be warranted.

2. Driving Abilities are Deteriorating

Driving safely requires spatial awareness, the ability to react quickly to changing conditions, and good mental acuity. If your loved one is getting into more fender benders, or getting lost while driving, it may be time to look into getting additional care.

3. Signs of Malnutrition

If you see that your loved one is losing weight, or just doesn’t look healthy, they may not be eating properly. Eating and meal preparation problems are common with older persons who need additional care.

4. Missing Important Appointments

Have you discovered that your loved one has missed more than one important appointment, such as a checkup with their doctor? Vigilant medical oversight is critical to optimal health in the elderly, and delaying getting additional care can be detrimental. It is a sign that your loved one may need additional help.

5. Forgetfulness

Loss of either short-term or long-term memory is serious, and warrants getting additional care for your loved one. You don’t want to have instances where they leave the stove on, or forget to lock their door. If these signs have already appeared, it is time to research additional care options.

6. Unexplained Injuries

Are you noticing bruises or scrapes on your loved one when you come to visit? These may be from falls or bumps due to mobility issues. If left ignored, these falls can lead to serious injuries. Additional care can help prevent these types of injuries.

7. Dirty or Cluttered Environment

If your loved one’s home is dirty or cluttered when you arrive for a visit, this may be a sign that they’re no longer able to keep up with daily chores like cleaning. In this case, you should consider getting help for them.

Remember that getting additional care for your loved one doesn’t mean giving up. It simply means that there are some life tasks that they need help with. When you both make the decision to get help, everyone’s life will be easier.

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