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If your parents are getting older and have begun to develop chronic medical problems, it’s a good idea to educate yourself about their medical care and form a relationship with their doctor. By accompanying your parents to their medical appointments, you can act as a health advocate on their behalf and take notes that may help in later discussions with your parents. Following is a step-by-step guide to talking to your parents’ doctor effectively. (Remember, privacy laws require that you receive your parents’ permission to talk to their doctor.)
Find out more about your parents’ health and nutritional status, given their age and chronic medical conditions). If your parents have high cholesterol, diabetes, or high blood pressure, find out how high their levels are and what targets they should be aiming for with the help of lifestyle modifications and/or medications. If your parents have a progressive disease, such as dementia, ask the doctor how far along their condition is and what changes you should expect in the coming months and years.
Ask your parents’ doctor to explain why they’re taking a particular medication, how it works, how often they should take it and whether it should be with or without food, and what side effects or potential interactions you and your parents should watch out for. Are there any over-the-counter or prescription drugs, or foods or beverages (such as grapefruit juice), your parents should avoid? Are there any possible interactions or side effects you should be aware of with other drugs or supplements that your parents may already be taking (to prevent blood clots or to treat depression or osteoporosis, for example)?
Ask the doctor how your parents should modify their diet, how often your parents should exercise, and whether there are any special precautions they should take to ward off infections (especially if a parent has diabetes or is immune-compromised). Also, should your parents try to lose weight? Learn new stress management techniques? Have regular flu shots and more frequent check ups?
Since you want to be an active player on your parents health care team, ask the doctor what you can do to help with their medical condition(s) and what you can do to help the doctor deliver good care. What stumbling blocks can you help your parents to avoid? What kinds of changes should you report to the doctor right away? How would your doctors prefer to hear from you—by phone or e-mail, for example? And what specific symptoms signal an emergency and warrant a call to 911? Be sure to give the doctor—and his support staff—your contact information, too.
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