Thursday, February 17, 2011

Getting Dad to Talk About It -

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My widowed father-in-law didn’t tell anyone about his symptoms — not his doctor, and not his grown son, who found out only when a member of the extended family called to say my husband needed to fly across the country immediately to see his dad.

By that point, the kidney cancer that would have been easy to treat if detected early had passed the fail-safe point. My father-in-law was not the kind of guy who liked to depend on people, so he made sure he had to for only a very short time before he died.

He was an extreme example of a familiar dynamic, which Deborah Tannen, a professor of linguistics at Georgetown University, calls “the guy’s view.” Dr. Tannen, the author of seven books about how we communicate with one another, says that many older men consider keeping difficult information to themselves a badge of courage. In this view, it’s what men are supposed to do to keep from upsetting the womenfolk.

But that often leaves caregivers struggling to improve communication, particularly in the doctor’s office.

Fortunately, there are things adult children can do for the many parents — men leading the pack, but some moms, too — who are reluctant to talk about what’s bothering them.
In a study of 12,000 Medicare recipients published in The Archives of Internal Medicine in 2008, Debra Roter, a professor of public health at Johns Hopkins University, and her colleagues found that elderly patients who were accompanied by someone reported greater satisfaction with their doctors’ visits than those who showed up in waiting rooms alone.

“Having a companion made those who were more ill or less educated on a par with people who were better off on those variables,” said Dr. Roter. An adult child accompanying a parent to a doctor’s appointment, she added, can help in very specific ways:
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