Throughout our lives, our bodies change. As long as a human
body is living, itís growing older. So how can you tell if your
loved one is developing a new and potentially serious health
problem, or if what you see is simply part of what could be called
the natural aging process?
The temptation is to assume that a new problem your
care-receiver develops is one every older person experiences and
that nothing can be done about it. Not necessarily.
Take being confused, for example. Doesnít everyone, if he or
she lives long enough, develop some form of mild dementia? Yes, the
chances of developing a form of dementia (Alzheimerís disease being
only one of the possible diagnoses) increase with age, but there are
other reasons a senior might be confused. Maybe Dadís metabolism has
changed, and a medicine heís taken for years is now causing side
effects. Or the problem is a new medicine combined with what heís
already taking. Maybe, without your knowledge, Mom is drinking more
than she used to. Maybe she has had a small stroke.
Itís a good idea to do some research and then ask your loved
oneís primary physician about the ďnormalĒ aging process ó what, in
general, is to be expected ó and keep the doctor up to date on
whatís happening with your care-receiver. If you see something new,
ask the doctor about it. Itís a good idea to consult with the
physician even if you think what you see is to be expected with any
chronic condition your loved one may have. (And itís important for
you to know the usual progression of that condition as well.)
For example, your mother has arthritis, and sheís having more
pain and more difficulty using her hands. Yes, her condition may
grow worse over time, but perhaps a more effective medicine or
treatment will help as the inflammation reaches this new stage.
Would physical therapy help her feel better, and is it available?
Would occupational therapy or an adaptive device make it easier for
her to perform daily tasks like holding a fork or using a zipper?
Ask about these things.
Donít compare your care-receiverís condition or symptoms with
another older personís. Maybe your best friend noticed that her
father was growing hard of hearing, and he now wears a hearing aid.
You notice your fatherís hearing isnít what it used to be, but you
hesitate to bring up the subject with Dad or his doctor because
youíre fairly certain getting your parent to accept a hearing aid
would be a tremendous battle. At the same time, Dad has noticed the
trouble heís having, and heís worried but too frightened to say
anything about it.
While you both tiptoe around the subject, the source of your
fatherís problem may be nothing more than wax buildup in his ears.
His doctorís nurse could quickly and easily take care of it and give
both of you tips on how to avoid the problem in the future.
In other words, donít assume that you understand what you are
seeing, and donít assume that thereís little to be done about it.
Remember that while you and your loved one may become very good at
spotting and diagnosing a change or a problem, thatís not the same
as having an objective health-care professional evaluate whatís
happening. Let that person be the one to decide if itís an
inevitable part of the aging process.
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