Living well Your Health & Wellness

How your doctor can help you age in place

Written by Diane Archer

We all know the expression, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” It is as true in the health care realm as everywhere else. Even I, a health care advocate, who thought I was on top of my dad’s health care issues, have just relearned that lesson. Here’s how your doctor can help you or someone you love age in place . . . if you ask.

Until last week, I had never asked my 96-year old dad’s doctor about either his need for a physical therapist or how he might get additional companionship. My dad has had balance issues for some time now. But he walks quite well, with neither a cane nor a walker, so I had not taken them as seriously as I should have. And, while I see my dad and speak with him as much as I can, I knew he would benefit from engaging more with others–buddies are important.

Luckily, I do know the value of accompanying my dad to his doctor’s appointments. He likes me to be his buddy at the doctor’s office because I speak up about health issues that might skip his mind or that he thinks are too minor to raise himself, such as a growth on his arm or pain in his feet. I like it because I can make sure that his doctor knows about health issues my dad might not be aware of–such as his periodic inability to remember where he is or his declining handle on numbers.

At my dad’s recent appointment, I expressly asked whether the doctor might prescribe him physical therapy because of the difficulty my dad was having raising his right arm. I mistakenly was only thinking about this acute issue. That said, he has taken mild falls multiple times and lives in a home where he is required to walk a flight of stairs to get to his bedroom. While we modified his home in several ways and installed chair lifts where possible, one curving flight of stairs could not accommodate a stair lift.

As soon as I asked–but only because I asked–the doctor made arrangements. As it turned out, my dad wanted the physical therapy and companionship way more than he had ever expressed or I had ever imagined. The physical therapist immediately prioritized improving his balance over addressing his arm because of his risk of falling. The physical therapist also suggested that an occupational therapist visit his home to see how he manages on a daily basis and what additional home modifications would make his life easier. And, the hospital social worker, where his doctor works, arranged for a volunteer to visit my dad in his home weekly. My dad (and I) could not have been happier.

I remain surprised that my dad’s cracker jack doctor did not suggest these services on her own and mortified that I waited so long to ask for them.

Lessons learned: A health care buddy should explore ways to minimize a loved one’s risk of falling and to ensure the loved one is as socially engaged as possible. As a buddy, you should speak up about these issues early and often.

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