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Starting the Dialogue: Understanding the Health Status of your Aging Parents

April 28, 2014

How often have you been sitting at a family dinner, or on the phone, when mom mentions her migraine headaches or dad talks about his aching knees? What about a passing remark about the high cost of blood pressure medications or diabetes test strips? Are you aware of the medical conditions your aging parents deal with daily? Do you know who their medical providers are, what prescriptions they take, their daily routine n terms of physical therapy or therapeutic programs? Is there someone in the family who can make health care decisions if your parent is unable to do so?

These may seem to you to be invasive subjects that are best left unexplored. I highly recommend that you become aware of all of these things and anything else that may be affecting the health of your parents.

It is important in these discussion about health, medications and therapies, as in all conversations about your parents’ personal lives, to not come across as the Spanish inquisition. This is not a situation to be asking nosy questions for your own self-satisfaction, but rather as another layer of protection for your parents as they age.  Calmly asking questions and explaining why you are asking is more likely to be taken in the manner it is meant to be received than being pushy and aggressive with an attitude that your parents can’t handle their own lives.

Consider this: mom has been experiencing one or two migraine headaches each month since you were a child. You know this because you grew up with it. In the past she always retreated to a darkened room, put a cold cloth on her head, and hopefully fell into a deep sleep that lasted anywhere from a few hours to most of the day. You, your siblings, and your dad learned that this is what was needed for her to return to her normal self.

Lately however, mom has mentioned to you that she’s having more frequent migraines and the pain is sharper, her vision get blurry, and she feels as though they come on without warning whereas before she always had a buzzing sound in her ears before one materialized.

This is the time to ask questions.

  • When was the last time she saw her medical provider? Did she mention these new phenomena at that time?
  • What did the medical provider recommend?
  • Were there any tests run? What were the results/ Did she understand the results? Can you review a copy?
  • Have there been any medication changes? While you’re at it with this question ask for a list of all medications your parent is taking and when they are scheduled to be taken. Find out who the prescribing doctor is and which pharmacy fills the prescriptions. In addition, ask about over-the-counter medications and supplements.
  • Ask when the last episode occurred of these new phenomena and get a date when they originally started with the new pattern.
  • Find out if symptoms occur at the same time with each occurrence and if the symptoms are always the same or if they vary.
  • Make sure that you, one of your siblings, or a local caregiver have the ability to discuss with your mother’s medical provider her medical condition and her treatment. In other words, have a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care on file with every medical provider she sees, the local hospital, a copy in her home and copies for every member of the family so that there are no misunderstandings.

If you think this is a bit alarmist or a lot of work for something that might not be important consider how difficult it will be if it turns out that mom has what is now a fast growing tumor that needs immediate surgery, but she becomes too disoriented to make her own decisions. Yes, it’s happened to people I know.

I’m not trying to be overly dramatic, but I do want you to understand how important it is that you be aware of the medical conditions your parents deal with, their prescriptions, their over-the-counter medications, their supplements, who their medical providers are, and who can make decisions for them in case of a health crisis where they are not able to make their own decisions.

While you’re at it, consider putting these same precautions in place for yourself even if you are young and healthy.


Your comments and questions are always welcome. Thanks for reading my blog.



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