'Families on the Brink:' Roundtable Discussion on How to Help Aging Relatives


He said before loved ones even consider having a conversation about having an elderly relative give up driving, they should first talk to the person's doctor. Changes in a person's driving can be caused by overmedication, a medication's side effects or diseases like diabetes, lung disease or heart disease.

Because making a left turn can be especially troublesome for the elderly, whose reflexes have slowed down over time, Resnick said that in Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University had been studying an online tool that directs drivers to their destinations using only right turns. Morris said there are driving refresher courses and car modifications available like changing the pedals and seats or adding brighter lights to a car's interior.

Stewart suggested getting a grandchild involved. "Just allocate one day a week to the grandson to the granddaughter, and you take grandma to her appointments. ... If they're liked by their grandchildren, that's kind of a pleasant time for them," Stewart said. She also suggested car-pooling.

Elderly and Medications

Resnick said the average older person sees 11 doctors a year, which can be a prescription for confusion. Morris said caregivers should try to ensure that an aging relative has one primary doctor who is aware of all medical conditions and medications.

Bernard said having one pharmacy fill all of the medications can be helpful. She said she also asks her patients to do a "brown-bag autopsy" in which they bring in all of their medications during a medical visit. "Sometimes what you thought they were taking is not what they're doing or how they are taking it is not what they're doing," she said.

She said it was very important for aging patients to bring in all of the medications, over-the-counter and prescribed, routinely, so that the primary care physician and the pharmacist stay aware. "When you get to 10 drugs ... there's almost a 100 percent likelihood that there's some sort of drug-drug or drug-nutrient interaction," Bernard said.

Baby Boomers: Preparing for Your Future

Morris said that the baby boomers -- whose generation spans 1946-64 -- need to start thinking about these issues so that their children are not burdened and so that they receive the best care possible. By 2030, one in five Americans will be 65, according to AARP.

"Be modern in your thinking," Stewart said. "Work with a doctor or a hospital that can aid you in all these challenges."

Bernard challenged caregivers to appreciate the time spent with aging parents and relatives. "Remember what it was like when your children were infants," she said. "That seems like a terrible burden as well. [But] it's a very enriching thing. It's important to step back and appreciate some of that because you might not get it back again."

Resnick said that caregivers and families should focus on hope and help. "There's so much that can be done today, much more will be able to be done in the future. ... There's a lot to enjoy and treasure about old people," he said.

"They bring wisdom and experience and baby-sitting and participation in the arts and culture and donations and advice for how to live better lives and what the meaning of life is," Resnick said. "It's a privilege to be able to take care of older people."

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