Bonding with your parent's doctor
This is the final installment in an occasional series of articles examining the role reversal occurring in society today as adult children take on the challenges of caring for their aging parents.
Lynne Slamick and her mother, Mildred Moore, both frequent the Kanawha City offices of Dr. William Harris.
And Harris, a family practitioner who specializes in geriatric medicine, said that’s the way he likes it. When several generations come through his doors, it’s easier for him to care for the patients, especially the aged ones, he said.
The doctor will be more familiar with the family’s medical history. The adult child will be more comfortable with a parent’s doctor and have more chances to talk to nurses and doctors about medical conditions.
“The doctors and nurses are free — by way of consent — to openly discuss their health,” Harris said.
A child may alert the doctor to changes in their parent’s behavior. Or pass on information that the parent may have forgotten to relay, he added.
Although the Slamick and Moore relationship is ideal, it’s not the norm, Harris said.
“Usually the children live out of state and they’re very anxious,” he said. “They’re guilty because their job and families make them unable to come back here to care for mom and pop.”
About 70 percent of Harris’ daily patients are older. If their adult children live far away, it’s not unusual for them to call to talk about a parent’s medical condition.
And his geriatric patients usually don’t mind the doctor talking to their children.
“It’s rarely a problem,” he said. “I tell them, ‘I don’t say anything to the children that I didn’t say to you.’”
‘Her memory isn’t what it used to be’
What’s the most important thing an adult child could do to make sure their parents get the best medical attention — even if they live out of state?
“Communicate. Stay involved at a personal level. Call and visit. Have open discussions with them,” Harris said.
Calling your parents regularly may tip you off to signs of dementia. Maybe your parents don’t remember yesterday’s conversation, but can describe in detail their high school graduation.
“Just take me, [for example],” Harris said. “I’ve called my parents every week since I left the house at 17 years old. I’m going to be able to recognize that something’s wrong.”
And don’t forget to visit. Is their house unkempt? Are they taking their medicine?
Often a child will visit their parents and notice pills strewn all over the kitchen floor, Harris said. Mom thinks she’s taking her medicine, when she really isn’t.
These tidbits will be useful to any doctor, Harris said.
“The child needs to be involved with their parents on a daily basis. They can recognize the problem before the medical professional,” he said.
And that’s what happened to Slamick, 57.
One day, her mother — who lives in an addition to her Kanawha City home — complained of fatigue. Moore lacked energy and could hardly walk.
Slamick called Harris, who said he’d meet her in the emergency room at Charleston Area Medical Center’s General Hospital.
Moore, 90, had a bleeding ulcer. She lost a lot of blood and needed two transfusions before leaving the hospital.
“Oh, I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t been around,” Slamick said. “If she had gone to bed and wasn’t able to get up ...”
Slamick also accompanies her mother to her doctors appointments. It’s not unusual for her to shake her head behind her mother’s back to alert Harris that her mother isn’t being accurate.
“Her memory isn’t what it used to be,” Slamick said. “She may say she’s had something for six months when I first heard about it two days ago.”
Cathi Givens, 52, has had similar experiences with her mother, Catherine LaRue, 83. Her mother, for example, forgot that a doctor had found a tumor on the lining of her brain when she lived in Florida. She remembered when a neighbor told her of her own brain tumor.
Another doctor had told LaRue that the tumor was not serious enough to be removed, but should be checked periodically.
“She was supposed to have it checked every so often,” Givens said. “And she didn’t remember that until her neighbor had brought it to mind.”
Her mother again forgot about the tumor during her next trip to Harris’ office. So it was Givens who reminder her mother that she had something to tell the doctor.
Scanning the Web
Frank DiTuro quit his job as a musician to care for his parents. His wife is a nurse at CAMC.
His father died in 1998. Previously, DiTuro would relay any changes in his father’s habits to Harris — for instance, if his father’s medicine made him sick or if his breathing was irregular.
His father battled ailments such as diabetes and respiratory, heart and circulation problems.
“Older people sometimes forget things,” he said. “At least the children can make a list and make sure they tell the doctor.”
He does the same for his mother, who suffers from a compressed fracture and has trouble walking.
“Sometimes she forgets things or just doesn’t tell him,” he said.
Harris also encourages adult children to learn everything about their parents’ problems. The Internet is a good source, although users should be weary of possible misinformation. Medical libraries are another possibility, he said.
If DiTuro notices his mother acting oddly or having health problems, he may scan the Internet before calling the doctor. Or he’ll do an Internet search to learn more about his mother’s new medicines.
To contact staff writer Joy Davia, use e-mail or call 348-1254.