Caregiving

How do I help bathe my aging and ailing parent?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I would appreciate suggestions for how to help an aging and ailing parent to bathe.

DEAR READER: Until you step in to help, you may not even be aware of all the obstacles that can make bathing difficult for someone who is older or ailing. Arthritis, mental confusion or curtailed physical abilities can all contribute. Your first step is to determine what is causing the problem.

Are there services that can help my older mother remain in her own home?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My mother lives alone. She refuses to consider assisted living and insists on remaining in her home. Are there services that can help my mother remain independent in her own home?

DEAR READER: If I were older and alone, I'd be like your mother: I'd want to remain living in my home. We all want to hold on to our independence for as long as possible. Two services can help make this a reality for some people. They are home health care and private duty care.

How can I make my home safer for my elderly mother?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My elderly mother is moving in with me, and I'm worried she will fall while I'm at work or asleep. How can I make my home safer for her?

DEAR READER: With some fairly simple steps, you can reduce your mother's risk of falls. Among people 65 and older, falling ranks as the top cause of injuries. In older people, injuries from falls can be disabling, even fatal.

I’m drawing up a living will — Can you explain the medical terms I’m encountering?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm drawing up a living will, but I don't understand many of the medical terms I'm encountering. Can you help?

DEAR READER: Many people, certainly including me, have asked themselves how they would want to be cared for if they became very sick and unable to speak for themselves. The two most common ways of doing that are to designate one trusted person, such as your spouse, who knows your wishes to make decisions for you -- a health care proxy. Another is for you to write a living will.

Why does marriage have such a positive effect on patients with cancer?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I read about a study that said married cancer patients do better than those who aren't married. Why does marriage have such a positive effect?

DEAR READER: You're probably talking about a study that was published earlier this year in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. The study included about 735,000 people diagnosed with 10 different types of cancer. Married men were 23 percent less likely to die of cancer than those who were single, widowed or divorced.

How can a geriatric care manager help me take care of my elderly father?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Taking care of my elderly father, with his complicated medical care, has become more than I can handle. A friend suggested I hire a geriatric care manager. How can this person help?

DEAR READER: Caring for an elderly parent takes a lot of time, energy and patience, and it may also cause financial strain. But caregiving also can be wonderfully rewarding. Even if you do find it rewarding and don't want to stop playing a major role in caring for your parent, you might still feel overwhelmed.

I’m the primary caregiver for my ill, elderly father. I’m exhausted and upset all the time–What can I do to lighten my load?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm the primary caregiver for my ill, elderly father. I'm exhausted and upset all the time. What can I do to lighten my load without costing us much? Neither of us is well off.

DEAR READER: You're not alone. Approximately one in five American adults helps an elderly or disabled family member with the daily tasks of life. This caregiving runs the gamut from grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning house, to helping with baths and personal hygiene or providing hands-on medical care. That's often in addition to caring for other family members and holding down a paid job.

I often feel guilty and frustrated when taking care of my mother with Alzheimer’s — Can you help me change my outlook?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I do my best to care for my mother, who has Alzheimer's disease. But I often feel guilty and frustrated. Can you help me change my outlook -- for my sake and my mother's?

DEAR READER: Fortunately, I never had to face the challenge that you face, as my parents both died while in full possession of their faculties. But many of my patients and friends are experiencing what you are going through. And like you, they often feel guilty and judge themselves harshly.

What is sundowning?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My wife is in her late 70s. Lately she appears very tired and agitated in the evenings. I talked to a doctor friend who said she might be "sundowning." What is sundowning, and what can we do about it?

DEAR READER: Some older people have trouble concentrating, grow agitated or even confused, and become especially fatigued at the end of the day. This phenomenon is known as "sundowning" because its effects tend to coincide with sunset -- usually occurring in the late afternoon into the evening, then settling down late at night.

How can I help care for my elderly mother long-distance?

DEAR DOCTOR K: How can I help care for my elderly mother? She lives alone, but not close enough for me to visit regularly.

DEAR READER: My father died young, but my mother lived into her late 70s. She lived 3,000 miles away, and alone. As she started to lose some of her energy and independence, it was pretty stressful for me. You just can't know what's going on with the person you love. Supervising care and handling problems that arise are difficult, too.