Sunday, July 27, 2008
Slow Medicine: a humane approach to parent care
The death of my friend Lucille this month brought back lots of memories. Not only of her years of illness, hospitalizations, chemotherapy, and final days, but also the long decline of my mother-in-law (pictured at right, with my daughter Heidi), who died nearly six years ago, and that of my parents, who died in 1995.
Lucille had cancer; my family members had Alzheimer's, strokes, a broken hip, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, congestive heart failure, and pneumonia. Though each situation has its own set of problems, caregivers all ask certain basic questions: What do our beloved seniors need from us? Where can we turn for help? How can we work with health-care providers to add to their comfort and contentment--and how can we prevent medical technology from adding to their pain and fear?
Millions of Boomers are asking these questions, and publishers have (of course) noticed. For an introduction to the newest and best books on parent care, check Marcia Z. Nelson's excellent review on beliefnet. I was intrigued by the subtitle of Dennis McCullough's My Mother, Your Mother: Embracing "Slow Medicine," the Compassionate Approach to Caring for Your Aging Loved Ones, so I checked the book out of the public library and read through it today.
Slow medicine, as you've no doubt figured out, is a term inspired by the slow food movement's emphasis on relationships and natural processes and savoring. "Slow medicine's ultimate goal," writes McCullough, a physician and geriatrician, "is a practical and qualitative change in care directed by a more complete respect for and fuller understanding of the particularity of each late-life elder. This practice calls for using the allotted time health professionals (and families) spend with our aging parents differently and making better, more appropriate decisions more slowly and over a more extended period of time" (1-2, italics in original).
It's an attractive concept, and McCullough puts flesh on it by interspersing extremely practical tips--bulleted for easy understanding and reference--with touching stories about his own mother's final years as well as those of many of his clients. This book is a valuable guide to the aging process and a wise counselor for any of us whose parents are past 80.
Even for Mr Neff, whose amazing 87-year-old father drove from Arizona to Michigan last month to meet us for a family reunion, taking the long way home through South Dakota because he'd never seen Mount Rushmore.