For Caregivers: 5 Questions To Ask Your Aging Parents’ Doctors

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For caregivers, navigating a senior’s medical needs can be a confusing and daunting task. Here are 5 key questions caregivers should always ask.

According to, The population of seniors, or people age 65 or over, in the United States neared 48 million last year and is steadily growing. Consequently, millions of adult children find themselves taking care of their parents’ medical needs. This can be a daunting task because many older individuals have complex health conditions. According to the National Council on Aging, almost 70 percent of seniors have two or more chronic diseases. As a result, they see an average of four different specialists a year.

Taking a lot of different drugs can lead to troublesome side effects or drug interactions. Having specialists who do not necessarily communicate with each other can lead to other complications. What can you do to try to avoid these problems? The answer is: Learn to ask questions and become your parents’ advocate.

According to the author, she is a professor of law and bioethics and was involved in her own parents’ care at the end of their lives. As she wrote about in her book, “Aging with a Plan: How A Little Thought Today Can Vastly Improve Your Tomorrow,” she learned that you can do a great deal to help oversee loved ones’ health care and to avoid some of its pitfalls.

Here are five key questions that you should not hesitate to ask.

1. Does my parent really need this many drugs?

Be familiar with your loved one’s full medication list, and keep track of any changes. If the list is long and a doctor wants to add another drug, ask if it is really necessary. You should also request that your parent’s geriatrician or primary care physician review the complete medication list periodically. Does it raise any concerns?

In 2012, about a year before the author’s mother died, she suddenly seemed to lose her mental capacities. In a matter of two days, she went from being a frail but clear-minded 83-year-old to acting as though she had advanced dementia. She stopped wanting to eat, stopped communicating and slept most of the day.

After an agonizing period of trying to figure out what was wrong, it turned out to be a drug-drug interaction. She was 83 and weighed only 104 pounds. Yet, she had been on 12 drugs, and a doctor added an unlucky 13th. We slowly eliminated most of the drugs and got her down to five essential medicines. She slowly regained her cognitive capacities, but there were two months during which she had no memory. My mother’s story is not unique – I have since read and heard others like it. It should be a cautionary tale for anyone with a very long medication list.