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Bad Case of Lovin' You (Doctor, Doctor)

Choose A Primary Doctor With Hospital Admitting Privileges!

Boomers and their parents often neglected by emergency room care

It all started when my mother changed doctors, and we found out too late that he did not have admitting privileges to any hospital in town. In case this sounds strange to you, it’s probably because it really didn’t used to be this way.

Time was when you called your doctor during a medical emergency, and while you were on the way to the hospital in an ambulance, he was driving to meet you in the ER. Once there, you would be attended to by the ER team, but your own doctor would be standing by, making decisions in your best interest.

In recent years, though, the trend has been for hospitals to employ doctors they call “hospitalists.” These doctors are typically not in private practice outside the hospital, and neither do they work for the ER. They see you after you’ve been admitted, if you are so fortunate to not be sent home during what is truly an emergency situation.

My own mother has been sent home from the hospital several times because her primary doctor was not authorized to admit her. This past winter, we finally got wise. She presented in the ER with a UTI (urinary tract infection) and a fever. She was also delirious and could not take a single step unassisted. The ER doc prescribed an antiobiotic, gave her a bag of IV fluids and SENT HER HOME. Several hours later, her fever spiked to 104, she had a grand mal seizure, and—-because of the downward spiral that ensued from there—she nearly died.

Do you think they admitted her the SECOND time she presented on the same night? Oh, yeah. By then, they knew their butts would be in a sling (a little medical pun) if they neglected her care again. (By the way, a huge mistake we made that night was not to involve the hospital social worker on duty. She can be instrumental in helping you get satisfaction from your ER experience, but she can’t work miracles.)

Here’s the point: As soon as we got my mother stabilized, we found a doctor who admits to her hospital of choice AND who is a gerontologist. Not only does she love him, but we’ve already had a chance to put our new strategy into play. Mom became very ill again two weeks ago, and had no trouble at all getting admitted for the required care. She still went through the ER, but by the time we arrived the doctors there had instructions from the admitting doc about what was to happen.

Since then, I’ve asked a few questions just to make sure my own doc still has admitting privileges to the hospital next door to his office, and he does.

Of all the times a patient should not have to suffer neglect, it’s during a bona fide emergency.

Make sure you and your loved ones never get sent home from an ER inappropriately. The time to safeguard your own care is now.

Posted by Katy on 07/03/08
in FamilyOur ParentsHealth

Long-Term Is Right Around The Corner

If you're a Boomer without long-term care insurance, it's time to plan

Boomers are eternally optimistic, I think. And the one thing they are most optimistic about is never-ending youth. But honestly, it’s time to get a grip.

Not only are Boomers not going to live forever—-facelifts and butt lifts and fantastic vitamin formulations notwithstanding—-a whole bunch of us are going to “do time” in a long-term care facility before we kick. They still don’t have a cure for Alzheimer’s, you know (although those brain teasers we’ve been working on are bound to help), and the US is looking down the barrel at 80 million Boomers retiring over a 20-year period.

With life-expectancies stretching into the 80s and 90s, a much larger percentage of our generation could end up facing dementia than in previous generations, if only by virtue of the fact that we’re living longer. I don’t know about you, but I hesitate to ask my children and grandchildren to fork it over for the costs of my long-term care. And I certainly don’t plan on them caring for me themselves.

So what’s a Boomer to do? I suggest we waste no time investigating the long-term care policies on the market today. And I do mean TODAY. 2008 is already half over, people! If six months can fly by that quickly, do you believe time is somehow going to start moving more slowly? I didn’t think so.

Of course, the sooner you apply for long-term care insurance, the lower your premiums will be. If you’re in your 50s when you take care of it, it’s truly not terribly expensive. But if you wait until you have to be admitted to the hospital for something like, I don’t know, a bit of a dizzy spell, the origin of which manages to elude diagnosis?

Never mind that you recover and never have another episode. Even if you’re in your mid-50s, you WILL be turned down for long-term care insurance, and kindly invited to never apply again.

There are times in life to strike while the iron is hot. The time to act on attempting to meet your own future needs is while it’s inexpensive and before you’re disqualified by some transient health concern.

You can totally ignore this advice if you believe the government (aka the next generation of taxpayers) will pay for all your nursing home expenses (and in case you believe that they pay for our elders now, they don’t!).

Or if you believe that your children are just dying to change your diapers.

Posted by Katy on 07/02/08
in FamilyOur ChildrenHealthPersonal FinanceRetirement

Heading Off Trouble

Boomers might ward off Alzheimer's with brain exercises

My father died at 62, full of mental agility even though his heart gave out for the last time. My husband’s father died at 62, a man of still-brilliant intelligence taken down by malignant melanoma.

Our mothers, though, have lived to be 78 and 86, long enough for Doug and me to become just a wee bit frightened of Alzheimer’s. You’d be scared, too, if you were us.

But even 35 years ago, when my father’s sister retired from a long and successful career, he told me she was in big trouble. “She’s a genius, but the second she quit working, she refused to read a newspaper or a book, or to do a crossword puzzle or play Scrabble. She’s going to end up with Alzheimer’s.”

Sure enough, she did. Within a couple of years of her retirement, she was failing fast. Soon, she was in a nursing home, and didn’t survive long.

I think of my aunt often when I read current news about keeping the brain active and in training in order to avoid Alzheimer’s. Even something as simple as using your non-dominant hand to perform simple tasks, or closing your eyes while using the keyboard, or purposely taking a different path to the office can cause new connections to be made in the brain.

It shouldn’t surprise ambitious Boomers that now there’s a growing demand for brain fitness training.

“People are worried,” says Dr. John Hart Jr., Medical Science Director of the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas. “You have a large group of the population getting to the age where they are sort of vulnerable to degenerative neurological diseases that seem to be prevalent.” Hart says there is “reasonable evidence” that challenging your brain by learning new things can stave off the cognitive decline that comes with aging. But brain fitness programs differ from traditional learning by focusing on drills for specific cognitive abilities, such as concentration and retaining information.

I gotta say, I still regret giving in to the calculator. I know they were around when I was in high school, but we were forbidden to use them then. If you couldn’t do the problem, you couldn’t do it. And you know what? Now that I use a calculator to do my checkbook, I sure don’t add and subtract as easily as I used to. I’ve kind of lost something in translation.

That seems a shame, doesn’t it? I’m going to start some of the brain exercises on the Internet. And I’m going to get on the ball writing my second novel. If that doesn’t keep those old neurons firing, nothing will.


Posted by Katy on 06/17/08
in Health

Heavy Lifting

Boomers caring for their parents, while starting to creak themselves

August 2 marks the seven-year anniversary of my mother’s long health decline. You probably think it’s odd that I remember the day I took her to the ENT for treatment of what became a relentless string of ear infections, but trust me, I remember.

The night before, Mom wanted to treat my family and the two Irish girls we’d sponsored for much of the summer to dinner at a wonderful Japanese restaurant here in Kansas City. She knew we’d be taking the girls to the airport that next morning for their flight back to the auld sod, and she’d decided to do something special for them. They loved it, and so did I.

Little did I know, though, that a very fun memory would mark the beginning of her woes and the start of my season of heavy lifting.

By December of 2001, she’d been hospitalized in order to put her on an insulin regimen, since oral meds were no longer controlling her diabetes. By early spring of 2002, she’d begun having serious seizures. She could no longer drive her car, since in Missouri you must be seizure-free for six months to maintain that privilege.

She was alone in the big house she’d raised us in, the house she’d lived as a widow in for 17 years, and suddenly she was having debilitating panic attacks, during which she made all of us come to the house because of her feeling that she was dying right that very second.

In a few days, we’ll mark the six-year anniversary of moving her out of the family home into assisted living. If you haven’t closed down your family-of-origin home yet, let me just say it’s quite an ordeal. Since we shut down the big house, Mom’s moved several more times. Three different trips to nursing homes and then back again, plus a four-month stay in an independent-living apartment and then back to assisted living.

If I’m counting correctly, that’s nine moves for Mom in six years. And yes, the moves into nursing homes count. You may not have to take a lot of furniture, but you do take some. Plus c-pap machines for those with sleep apnea, clothing, shoes, special blankets, pillows, framed pictures, etc. It’s at least a carload each time.

Then there’s the heavy lifting for Doug’s mom. We shut down her home of 30 years also, sometime after we did Mom’s. She kept getting lost five minutes from her house. And even though she wore a button around her neck, she couldn’t remember to push it when she fell. The last time it happened, she was stuck on the kitchen floor for perhaps as long as two days, thinking she was in a “fine hotel with a very hard bed.” Finally, her dog must have pushed the button.

When we started in on her house, we found she’d kept every Price Chopper ad dating from 1970, all thrown in paper grocery bags and tossed into Doug’s old bedroom. They were mixed in with property tax statements and petty cash. We had ourselves quite a little situation, the solving of which took months.In the past 4.5 years, we’ve moved my mother-in-law (if memory serves) three complete times.

Twelve moves in six years. All for the welfare of two little ladies. I wouldn’t have it any other way, don’t get me wrong. It’s an honor to be able to help our mothers when they need us.

Still, when I look in the mirror, I see where the U-Hauls have carved paths into my face. The intersection of “Home and Nursing Home” never had a street sign until now, where the roads cross like a religious symbol on my forehead.

And sometimes, when the phone rings in the middle of the night and I rush to meet an ambulance at the hospital, the siren competes with the sound of my own creaking knees.


Posted by Katy on 06/13/08
in FamilyOur ParentsHealth

Tattle Tale

High-tech car keeps grandma driving

“Every time I drive my car, I get lost,” my mother-in-law told her oldest daughter.

“But, Mom, you only drive within five minutes of home…”

“It’s fine. I stop at a gas station, show them the address on my license, and they point me toward the house.”

“Really, Mom, it sounds like a problem to me.”

“Don’t worry. And whatever you do, don’t tell the others.”

If you’ve ever tried to wrestle car keys from your elder, you know how nearly impossible a task it can be. That’s why I’ve got to wonder how many senior citizens would actually put themselves in the situation of voluntarily submitting to an ongoing critique of their driving habits.

Doug Newcomb, writing for the Wired Blog Network, tells us about a dandy automobile that will be on the market about the time the boomers’ children start to ask for their old folks’ keys:

The car of tomorrow will make senior citizens better, safer drivers and let them know when they ought to hang up the keys for good. It also could tell the DMV. Researchers at MIT’s AgeLab are building the “Aware Car,” a Volvo XC90 packed with cameras, monitors and sensors that keep tabs on drivers and their behavior to improve safety. The technology won’t be ready for another 20 years—but that’s about the time the last of the Baby Boomers will have turned 65 and one in four drivers will be that age or older. AgeLab studies the quality-of-life issues of an aging population, and the idea behind the Aware Car isn’t getting older drivers off the road but allowing them to drive safely as long as possible.

Tell me, with all the secrecy that typically surrounds advancing dementia and other concerns of old age, do you really think the Aware Car will ever be a big hit with Boomers intent on hanging onto their independence?

I didn’t think so.

Posted by Katy on 06/06/08
in FamilyOur ParentsHealth

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Are You a Late Boomer?

If looming retirement is catching you off-guard between an aging parent and a revolving-door kid, you might be. If you've delayed travel only to discover they've changed the names of all the countries, you are. And if you're a member of the Baby Boomer Generation who's ready to give back but you've forgotten where you put it, stay tuned. From healthcare to personal finance, from career changes to volunteerism, it's time to boom where you are planted.