Too much of a good thing, not so good

Graham Hookey is an educator and writer

  • Oct. 21, 2011 8:00 a.m.

The internet is, as it turns out, both a blessing and a curse to the children of elderly parents.

While it provides a lot of information that medical personnel might not have the time to share, or at least make comprehensible, it also presents more information than the average non-medical person can take in without becoming nervous, or worse, an amateur diagnostician.

When a label was first attached to my father’s condition (chronic myelogenous leukemia), my parents asked my sister and I to look it up on the internet. Although their doctor had given them a brief overview of the symptoms and treatment, it had been offered to them immediately after she told them what he had, and thus was not really heard through the emotions of the moment.

Once the emotions had settled, they wanted more of an idea of what lay ahead.

As we individually went into the topic, we found that most of the articles were significantly more complicated than my parents would be able to comprehend and, like all forms of leukemia, tended to have some reference to potential survival rates.

At that point in time, it was not something they needed to hear. So rather than run an article from the internet, I did some research and cobbled together a short outline of the main facts I felt they needed to understand and sent it to them.

As the condition has progressed, I have found myself going back to the internet regularly to determine if my father’s current condition and treatment is consistent with the norm that one should expect after reading about it. I’ve had to be careful not to sound like I am trying to second guess the doctor at times, but in reality, at this point in time, I have a singular focus that actually gives me a slight advantage over the doctor, who is much busier than I am on a much wider range of health issues.

My objective, as my father’s caregiver, is simply to ensure that he has the information and understanding he needs to make his own decisions about the best or most appropriate treatment.

This is, after all, a central tenet of health care, the rights of the patient to be well informed and to be part of the decision-making process with regard to their own care.

My father’s generation was not raised on such a premise as they were taught to defer to experts, so advocating for themselves is sometimes difficult.

The internet is a tremendous resource for information, but there is a big difference between information and wisdom.

I do believe it is important for caregivers and the elderly to be knowledgeable, but sometimes too much of a good thing is not such a good thing, after all.

The value of a sympathetic physician who takes the time to listen and explain what is necessary, and to answer questions that have arisen as more knowledge comes to light, cannot be underestimated.

Perhaps the best thing a son, daughter or caregiver can do for an elderly person is to help develop a strong and regular relationship with a physician to help tame the preponderance of information available at home and to ensure that they retain the right to make their own decisions for as long as possible.

Graham Hookey is an educator and writer.  Email him at ghookey@yahoo.com.

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