I am already 24 years old but still an intern in the hospital (read: unemployed, financially dependent). I wish I already have a job and the means to treat them to nice restaurants, and take them to amazing places. But here I am, fresh from a 29-hour duty, away from home. Is there really something I could do at the moment to make sure that they are taken care of?
- Do they have an existing disease like hypertension, diabetes, or asthma? Are they allergic to any medication or type of food? Do they suffer from a liver, lung, kidney, or heart condition? Know all of their illnesses and the approximate time when they were diagnosed by a doctor.
- If they have an existing illness, were they prescribed with maintenance medications? What are these? Know the brand or generic name, the dose, and the schedule of taking the medicines. For example, my dad takes Combizar (Losartan 50mg plus Hydrochlorothiazide 12.5 mg per tablet), 1 tablet once a day to control his blood pressure.
- Ask them about their compliance to the prescribed drugs – do they take their medications as prescribed by their doctors?
- Were they previously hospitalized or did they undergo an operation? For what reason? What was the outcome?
- Family history: What are your grandparents’ illness or cause of death? Does any of your parents’ siblings or cousins have diabetes, asthma, skin allergy, cancer, heart problem or a history of stroke?
- Social history: Do your parents smoke? For how long and how many sticks per day do they consume? How about alcohol and illegal drugs?
If they were prescribed with antibiotics, make sure that they finish the whole dose prescribed by their doctor. If the treatment is supposed to be given for seven days, make sure that they take the drugs even if their symptoms have already disappeared before Day 7. Why? So that developing antibiotic resistance would be less likely, and that we’re sure that the infection has been cleared from the body. Never ever let them take antibiotics just because they want to. Antibiotics should only be taken when prescribed by a physician.
On maintenance medications
A lot of people stop taking their maintenance medications without consulting their doctors. Make sure that your parents are not one of them.
- What are maintenance medications, anyway? These drugs are usually taken on a daily basis, or with a schedule, depending on the instructions given by the physician. These drugs are not given to simply relieve symptoms. For example, a hypertensive (with high blood pressure) patient needs maintenance medication (in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle) in order to lower the blood pressure and in turn prevent stroke, heart attack, and other diseases. Hence, not having any symptom does NOT mean that the patient is done with the treatment, unless the doctor said so upon follow-up.
With my mom, I did not only remind or nag her, I even tried to scare her. Last year, while I was a clinical clerk, my mom had already been diagnosed as a hypertensive. Unfortunately, she was the type of patient who is afraid of maintenance drugs. She felt like she would be sicker if she was to take medications (except multivitamins) on a daily basis. To make her drink her medicine daily, I would tell her about patients I had at the hospital who were about her age who happened to have had strokes. I would emphasize that they all had something in common — they did not take their anti-hypertensive medications religiously. I thought she would take my warning seriously. But then, being the difficult patient that she was, she still did not drink her medicine everyday.
To make the story short, she ended up having a hypertensive urgency. Aside from having a markedly elevated blood pressure, she was vomiting and complaining of headaches — indicators of having an increased pressure in the brain. Thank goodness she did not have a stroke. She now takes her anti-hypertensive medication DAILY.
On elective screening tests
My dad is more health-conscious compared to the general population. He makes sure that they see a doctor and have laboratory tests done every six months and takes his medicines religiously. Some patients dread seeing a physician with the fear of being diagnosed with a disease even if they do not feel any symptom. But then, it’s always better to catch a disease at its early stage than at a time when it’s too late. On the other hand, for the healthy individuals, there’s a rewarding feeling every time the test results all turn out to be normal.
My maternal grandmother died of breast cancer so I always remind my mom to undergo mammography. Being the difficult patient that she is, it has been more than 5 years since her last examination. It’s her birthday today and she promised me that she’ll go to the hospital to be screened next week. I probably need a stronger nagging power and make sure that the test would be done ASAP. It also helps that women with a high risk for breast cancer are able to do breast examinations on themselves.
There are many guidelines on screening for breast cancer but it should be initiated at age 40 onwards, depending on patient-specific risks. Ideally, my mom (now 52) has to undergo mammography at least once in 1-2 years (the recommendations vary in UpToDate). Colonoscopy (a test to visualize the intestines) should also be done in people (men and women) who are 50 years or older, or younger if there are symptoms of bowel obstruction or a family history of colon cancer. Again, it is better to ask the physician since patients’ medical history and risk factors are never the same.
Lucky are those whose parents are the ones initiating a healthy lifestyle in the family. But if you belong to a family that eats liempo for lunch and lechon for dinner, maybe it is time to make the whole family eat more fruits and vegetable for a change. Instead of asking them to try the crispy pata at Livestock, take the whole family to Salad Stop or The Wholesome Table. After all, any food tastes better when you’re with the people you love.
Aside from making them eat healthy, another way is to make them exercise regularly. However, I find this challenging since I live away from my parents. A simple line like “It’s best if you could exercise at least 30 minutes a day” will never work for sure. But then, it may be possible for some of you to work out with your parents. Whenever I go to the gym, I have classmates in Zumba, Body Combat, and Yoga classes who are even older than my mom!
If you have other ways in taking good care of your parents, please don’t hesitate to share them in the comments section below.
Now, who’s ready to jot down notes and start a health convo with the parentals?