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Tony Rossi

Radio Host/Producer

Save Your Parents from the Perils of Modern Healthcare

“All human life deserves respect, yet I think most of us in this country and our world have forgotten or overlooked a large and often voiceless section of our community: frail, older persons.”

Marcy Cottrell Houle learned that lesson after walking through Alzheimer’s with her father—and various other maladies with her mother. During an interview on “Christopher Closeup” about her Christopher Award-winning book “The Gift of Caring,” she explained, “When people get sick or get dementia, they’re often written off by the community or the whole system. It’s sad and scary to see some of these changes, but the more you get to know these people, you realize that they still are human beings. They deserve dignity and care.”

One time, Houle’s father was literally “forgotten,” after being transferred to a nursing home after hip surgery. He was placed in a room that was separated from the rest of the unit so he didn’t receive any medication or water for close to a day. If it wasn’t for Houle’s quick action to get help after seeing him in such a bad state, he would likely have died.

That was just one incident in which the healthcare system almost failed Houle’s parents. But this book isn’t about cursing the darkness; it’s about raising awareness and offering readers the light needed to avoid those pitfalls. Houle said, “Co-writing [this book] with Dr. Elizabeth Eckstrom, who is one of the nation’s leading geriatricians, made my story so much more than a memoir…It provides the tools I wish I had, tools that can help people reduce the suffering of their loved ones and hopefully even change the system.”

One of the other things Houle learned is the importance of educating yourself about specifics of your parents’ health because 97 percent of medical students aren’t trained to treat the unique needs of seniors. For instance, have you ever heard of the Beers List (named after Dr. Mark Beers, not the sudsy brew)? It’s a list of medications that seniors shouldn’t be taking, yet they’re often prescribed by doctors anyway. When a geriatrician took Houle’s mother off certain pills, her energy level and cognitive abilities went up.  

While caring for her parents brought obvious hardships, Houle still considers the experience a blessing. She told me, “It was a gift to be able to give back to the people that I loved, who’d taken care of me and loved me.” Her Catholic faith also brought her “the additional strength I needed. In the hardest of times, it was there. God was at my side and my family was at my side, and we still had that love.” The caregiving experience also had a positive effect on Houle’s daughters, Emily and Jennifer. Both of them went on to become talented and compassionate doctors who are committed to never forgetting what it’s like to be the patient’s family.  

In the end, Houle hopes that reading “The Gift of Caring” teaches people about the world of modern healthcare and inspires them to action: “You have the power to make things better for your loved ones, for your family. Get mad at a system that forgets these people! And what little candle can you light to try to make it better in your community? Think of that person that’s alone and isolated. Maybe you can drive them to an appointment. Know how to discuss what a baseline is or other healthcare issues. Just be armed so you [don’t] feel lost, but you feel empowered.”

 

For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, APPRECIATING OUR ELDERS, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org