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Ask Dr. K: Services are available to care for ailing parents

DEAR DOCTOR K: I’m a working mother. I also care for my ill and aging father. Are there professionals or services that can help me care for him?

DEAR READER: There can be plenty of rewards in caring for an ailing parent. My parents both died suddenly while apparently healthy, so I never faced this situation. But I’ve had many patients and friends who have told me that they got closer to their parents in the process of caring for them.

However, that care takes a toll, especially when you’re also juggling other responsibilities. Help is available from various organizations. Here are some services and professionals you might want to look into. Job responsibilities and services may vary from state to state.

ADULT DAY SERVICES offer a variety of programs. They may include transportation, nursing care, meals, personal care (such as help with bathing or toilet use), social opportunities or rehabilitation.

CERTIFIED NURSE’S AIDES can help with activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing and personal care. They cannot administer medications.

HOME HEALTH AIDES may administer medications. They also perform personal services such as bathing and dressing.

NURSES offer skilled nursing care, such as inserting IV lines, cleaning wounds and changing bandages. They can also administer medications.

HIRED COMPANIONS AND HOMEMAKERS. You can hire someone who is not a trained medical professional to help with meals, shopping and laundry. This person can provide companionship and transportation.

MEAL PROGRAMS. Your father may be able to get hot, nutritious meals brought to the home through programs like the Meals on Wheels (www.mowaa.org). Senior centers and community or religious groups may have similar services.

CASE MANAGERS coordinate services and help manage red tape. They can also communicate information between patient, caregiver, family and physicians.

PHYSICAL, OCCUPATIONAL OR SPEECH THERAPISTS may do in-home therapy sessions.

RESPITE CARE WORKERS provide caregivers with time off from their caregiving duties.

TRANSPORTATION SERVICES. Some communities, religious and community organizations and senior centers offer free or low-cost transportation to medical appointments for seniors or people who are disabled.

There are more support services for ailing older people today in the U.S. than when I went to medical school. It surprises me how many of my patients don’t know of this, and how many doctors don’t refer their patients to these services.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ website, www.healthfinder.gov, may be able to refer you to services in your community. Ask your father’s doctor about other resources in your community.

Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. To send questions, go to AskDoctorK.com, or write: Ask Doctor K, 10 Shattuck St., Second Floor, Boston, MA 02115.

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