For all those years, she tended your every scratch and sniffle. She nursed you through fever, strep and chicken pox with no concern for herself catching any bug you had. And even when we become adults and know how to treat our aches and illnesses ourselves, moms are still there to offer advice and care.
This month, in honor of Mother's Day, take some time to make sure your mom is looking after herself. There's no need to tackle every topic at once, but discussing these health concerns will get both of you thinking about preventive steps you both can take together.
- Knowing family health history: Have grandparents or cousins had a heart attack or stroke? What about breast cancer? Is there diabetes in the family? This knowledge can better help your mom's primary care doctor know what to watch for and suggest preventive steps or screenings. This information is important for you and your own doctor as well.
- Smoking: It's never too late to stop. Many health benefits kick in within days. Over time, people who quit significantly reduce their risks of heart disease and cancer. And think of the great example for the grandkids!
- Heart: Do you know that the risk for heart attack and stroke are pretty much the same? Make sure your mom knows the benefits of a low-fat diet and regular exercise. Does she know what her blood pressure is, and what it should be?
- Cancer: Does your mom get regular mammograms? Has she had a colonoscopy? If she has smoked or smokes, you may want to suggest a low-cost, non-invasive lung screening.
- Menopause: It's no surprise that "the change" affects women in many different ways, physically and emotionally. Make sure your mom is talking frankly to her doctor about her symptoms, from hot flashes to insomnia and mood changes, so that the doctor can recommend ways to manage symptoms. Some women find alternative treatments, such as acupuncture, yoga and diet changes, can help lessen the impact of menopause.
- Mental check: More and more medical studies are revealing the impact stress has on our overall health. Depression and anxiety are not uncommon for postmenopausal women.
- Thyroid: Women 60 and older are more prone to hypothyroidism, a condition where the thyroid glands don't produce the hormones they should. Over time, the symptoms may be subtle, such as fatigue, sensitivity to cold, constipation, dry skin, weight gain, elevated blood cholesterol level, muscle aches, slowed heart rate - even depression and impaired memory. Old age? No, it may be a thyroid issue.
- Hepatitis C: If your mom was born between 1945 and 1965, it's important that she gets tested for Hepatitis C, a blood-borne disease. An infected person can live without symptoms for a long time, but when active, it can cause cirrhosis and liver disease. Baby Boomers are more prone to be infected because routine testing was not started until 1990, and universal precautions weren't adopted until the late 1980s.
- Nutrition: Now that the kids are out of the house have planned meals gone by the wayside? Or is mom not as interested in cooking? Make sure she's eating healthy and has proper access to nutritional meals and snacks.
Naturally, the older our mothers are, the more we worry about them remaining independent and active. And a fall can set back her health in significant ways. According to the National Council on Aging, an older adult is treated in an emergency room for a fall in the U.S. every 11 seconds. Every year, one in four adults 65 and older suffers a fall.
Take Time to Talk with Your Older Mom About:
- Eye care: Cataracts and glaucoma can impair her vision. Make sure she is screened for those and has an up-to-date eyeglass prescription.
- Medication side effects and interactions: Some medications, including over-the-counter sleep aids, can cause dizziness. Other medications or combinations can cause balance problems. Ask your mom's doctor or pharmacist about any medication concerns.
- Home hazards: Make sure your mom's home is safe with clear walkways, that there is adequate lighting, and get rid of throw rugs.
- Watch for signs of difficulty walking or rising from a chair. Sessions with a physical therapist may help with balance and strength issue for older parents.
Don't be surprised if your mom, like many parents, hesitates to talk about her health. This may just be her way of wanting "not to worry you." But with patience and love, these discussions will get easier.
National Council on Aging: Healthy Aging
Health Tip: 5 Suggestions to Promote Healthy Aging
What's the Secret to a Long, Healthy Life? Take Our Longevity Quiz
By Jennifer Hawke