Category Archives: health

Publisher’s Clearinghouse … Where’s My Check?!

My mom is a bit gullible, as many seniors are. She gets more mail solicitations from charities than anyone I know. There’s a reason for that. If they send her address labels or cards (or whatever), she feels guilty and sends them money.

She believes that Publisher’s Clearinghouse will actually send someone to our door with a big check if she enters their contest. And she thinks that sending someone money to win a big prize is legit. Which is why we have to keep an eye on her mail.

But now we have a bigger problem: infomercials. My mom won’t spend more than a few bucks on shampoo, but a year ago she sent away for hair care products that cost over $100. While they promised soft, flowing locks, they didn’t tell her she would have to follow a three-step process, and leave some of it in her hair overnight. Or that they’d automatically refill her order and charge her credit card. Guess who had to call the company, return the products, and get her credit card refunded?

Several months ago she saw an ad for pills that rid of belly fat. She ordered them, and when they came in the mail she got a bit of a scolding. “Mom,” I tried to reason, “if getting rid of belly fat was that easy, we’d all be taking this stuff.”  They’re still in the drawer. And she’s still got belly fat. What a surprise!

Last week she received a second order for arthritis pills she saw advertised on TV. We didn’t know about the first order, for which she paid $166. She was supposed to get two bottles and a third free. The free one never came, but they did automatically send her another monthly supply and charge her credit card.

Of course, she asked my husband to deal with this and not tell me. He did deal with it. And he did tell me. And I did talk to her. I pointed out that she paid $166 for a pill that contains Vitamin C and D. That it wouldn’t help her arthritis. That it’s a scam. And I got the same response as before. Which means she didn’t hear a word I said.

My husband wants to take away her credit card. I feel that taking it away would make her feel more diminished, less independent, and more child-like. At the same time, I can only imagine what might arrive at our door next month. Mind you, mom orders other things that we know nothing about but I find in her secret stash in the kitchen drawer.

Any suggestions out there? Besides calling the Attorney General’s Office?




The Emotional Side of Growing Old

I finally got to my Sunday New York Times (okay, it’s been a busy week), and I came across an interesting article about Dr. Marc E. Agronin, who cares for seniors at the Miami Jewish Health Systems. His focus isn’t on the physical, it’s on the mental health of his patients.

As people age, they deal with different issues … like losing a spouse, their best friend, their independence. Their body doesn’t work the same, there’s the aches and pains, and for many a move to a new place, where it be a child’s home, a nursing home or an assisted living facility. No wonder seniors suffer from depression, grief and anxiety.

One of his patients describes him as a “lifesaver,” saying, “He helps you walk down the mountain.” That mountain, of course, is growing old and all that is associated with the aging process.

One of the reasons why I insisted my mom come live with us is I felt she was depressed after the death of my dad. In fact, I think she was depressed before that. Once a social butterfly, she lived a very isolated life. She wasn’t eating right (frozen dinners) and she wasn’t getting any exercise. You could hear the sadness in her voice.

If this sounds like your mom and dad, step in. You don’t have to move them in with you, but can get them an exercise bike. Take them a home-cooked meal. Or get them to a group therapy session like the one that Dr. Agronin holds. It will improve the quality of their lives. And ultimately, yours.

Mom Meddles With Meds

What would make someone modify their medication despite doctor’s orders? Mom seems to be a master at this.

I’m sure other seniors (and their caretakers) are going through this. My mom’s high blood pressure pills are no longer being manufactured so her doctor prescribed another medication plus a separate diuretic.  So Mom takes the diuretic, is up several times during the night to go to the bathroom, and decides the medicine is too much.

I call the doctor’s office, we set up an appointment, and he instructs her to take the diuretic for the remainder of the week until we come to see him. She tells me she’s not going to take it. I insist, reminding her that the last time she didn’t take a diuretic, her ankles blew up like sausages and her blood pressure shot up to scary levels.

“Oh yeah, I remember that. I don’t want that to happen again,” she tells me. I believe we have agreement. What she doesn’t tell me is that she decides on her own to cut the CAPSULE in half and take what she wants. Of course, I learn this in the doctor’s office when she tells the nurse what she’s been doing. (Said nurse gave her “the look,” if you know what I mean.)

Wow. Bad for two reasons. You can’t control your medication levels by cutting a capsule in half. And capsules work in certain ways … you change the way the medication enters your body and therefore the way it is meant to perform. The doctor explains this patiently but firmly. He asks her to try the medication he’s prescribed for at least six weeks. She agrees. Three days later, the new diuretic is working perfectly.

I now find I’m watching my mom’s medicine intake. I don’t like to have to do this, but I don’t feel like I can trust her to take the pills she’s supposed to take. Years ago, she decided she didn’t need to take B 12 anymore. That didn’t work out so well. It almost killed her and it contributed to her memory loss. She decided years ago to cut her thyroid pill in half and take part of it during the day and the other half during the evening. That didn’t work out so well, either. She gained 20 pounds. Finally, the doctor discovered what she was doing and that got straightened out.

Recently, when she threatened to quit the high blood pressure pill, I said, “OK, mom. But then you suffer the consequences. Your blood pressure will skyrocket and you’ll end up in the hospital.” (Hey, scare tactics were known to work on me when I was a kid.)

I’m writing this blog because I’m at a loss. If you have a suggestion on making mom take her meds, let me hear it!

Is the Doctor In?

I think there’s a real opportunity for innovation in the field of health care, particularly for senior citizens.

Since my mom is 87, she has plenty of health-related issues. Some are worth taking her to the doctor. But not every issue warrants a visit. To me, it would make sense if I could send an email to her doctor, ask a question, and get advice or a response. It seems, however, that physicians have not been quick to embrace technology as a way to better serve their patients. And I wonder why not.

It’s only been recently that I’ve seen my primary care physician with a personalized tablet that has all my medical history on it. But for the most part, my doctors still use folders and paper. That can’t be easier to track.

In moving my mom here, we asked for her medical records to be sent by her primary care physician and the specialists she had been seeing. Guess what? They were faxed … Hundreds of pages of paper. Isn’t there a way to transfer them electronically?

It’s about time doctors and hospitals and insurers start thinking about better ways to bring medical care to the public. In fact, it could very well save time, money and resources.

Aging Parents Aren’t Like Kids

Often when I tell people that my mom has moved in with us, their first comment is: “That’s just like having kids.”

No it’s not.

You can tell your kids what to do … and they listen. And when you tell them what to do, you can add smart parent remarks like, “Because I said so, that’s why.” And if they don’t listen, you can make them sit on the stairs alone for five minutes in time out.

Try that with your aging parent.

We come from a family of strong, independent, willful people. So while I may be stubborn, at least it comes honestly. So it should come as no surprise to me that my mom doesn’t want to do what I tell her she should do, like exercise and eat more greens.

The last time we had this discussion about food she said, “I’m 87 years old and I’ll eat what I damn well please.”  She’s 87, so I guess she’s been doing okay without me telling her what to do.

Mom and Meds

I was talking with a good friend yesterday who told me her biggest frustration with her mom is that she’ll go to the doctor, get advice and meds, and then completely ignore the advice and never take the medicine.

That hit a nerve with me. Compliance with doctor’s orders is probably one of the biggest health care challenges we face. I wonder if a study has ever been done to determine the percentage of people who simply ignore what the doctor suggests.

I monitor mom’s pill taking pretty closely. But with good reason. Years ago, she was diagnosed with thyroid disease and placed on medication. On her own, she decided to take half her pill in the morning and half at night. She gained weight, lacked energy. The doctor couldn’t figure it out. And then she mentioned cutting up her pill. Ah ha! The big no-no.

She also was told her body couldn’t absorb Vitamin B12. So she started getting Vitamin B12 shots. She felt so good that she thought she didn’t need them anymore. In a twist of fate, her doctor moved out of state. Her new doctor knew nothing about the B12 deficiency. She suffered memory loss (now permanent) and could have died.

At one point, she was talking about quitting her high blood pressure medicine because her blood pressure is improving. Do you see a pattern here?

If your aging parent is on meds, make sure they take their pills according to doctor’s instructions. Ask questions about their visit to the doctor. Be curious and proactive. It could save their life.

Memory Loss

OK, so I’ve forgotten some things in my day. Like someone’s name. Or why I walked into a room. Sometimes I’ve forgotten half a night … but that was self induced and I don’t think we really need to talk about that.

When I forget things, it bugs me. Even scares me a bit. So I can’t even imagine what my mom feels like. She has very little long-term memory. And her short-term memory isn’t so great, either.

My dad used to holler at her, not understanding that she couldn’t help it. I try to make things easier for her. I’ll write on her calendar when I’m going out of town on business, when I have an evening meeting, or what time she needs to take the dog out. We keep track of all her appointments.

But mostly, I’ll tease her. When she gets frustrated because she forgets, I ask her, “So, did you ever leave the pan on the stove and burn down the house?” She looks at me appalled, and says, “No!” So I say, “Well, then I’d say you’re doing pretty good.”

So I guess the lesson here is try not to sweat it. Have a sense of humor. I try to imagine what my poor mom must feel like … scared, frustrated. Empathy is a wonderful teacher.