Q: I'm in California, and my folks live in Massachusetts. Mom had a stroke that paralyzed her left side, but now I'm concerned about Dad. He's 78 and insists he can handle everything, but I can tell that caring for her is hard on him. What can I do from here to help? — Crystal C., Riverside, Calif.
A: Most of us, at some point, will become caregivers — more than 44 million North Americans do every year. And your dad (like any caregiver) needs to be reminded that it's important for him to take care of himself. This isn't selfish; it demonstrates his love for Mom, because then he'll have more energy to care for her. And if he gets worn out, he may even develop health problems himself.
So, in addition to encouraging him to take care of himself, here's how you can support him.
Share the load: Help Dad set up a team of family, friends and professional caregivers, such as licensed companions or visiting nurses, who can pitch in with household duties as well as Mom's special physical needs.
Write out a list of tasks that your dad could use help with, from going grocery shopping to vacuuming and laundry. Then identify people who will help. Your goal is to free him up so he can get physical activity as often as possible, see friends without worrying about Mom and recuperate from the stress of having to help your mother with all her physical needs.
Arrange meals: It's easy to miss a meal when you're focused on caring for someone else, but good nutrition is as essential for your dad as it is for your mom. See if neighbors can bring over meals regularly or if there is a Meals On Wheels program in his area.
Get Dad into a support group: The Family Caregiver Alliance has a state-by-state listing of local support groups. They'll give him a chance to talk about his concerns, to get tips from others in similar situations and to find out about caregiver-assistance programs.
And now that you're a caregiver, make sure to take care of yourself, too.
Q: My uncle Steven had an aortic valve replacement a few years ago. At the time, the Sapien valve was being used in Europe, but he didn't have access to it here, and unfortunately he didn't survive. Now the Sapien has gotten thumbs-up from the Food and Drug Administration. Why wasn't it approved for us earlier, when it was approved for the Europeans? — Henrietta B., Norcross, Ga.
A: We're sorry about your uncle. In the U.S., devices like the Sapien valve can't be used without FDA approval. And it's a long, slow process that doesn't necessarily take into account what other countries have done. That's a real bone of contention for many manufacturers and some consumer groups; it's forced some U.S. companies to first sell their medical devices overseas just to stay in business. This sends innovation, jobs and important health solutions out of the country.
The FDA is dedicated to balancing patient safety with a speedy approval process, but they're grossly underfunded. Nonetheless, solutions may be coming. The FDA has established the Medical Device Innovation Consortium (MDIC) to streamline the regulatory process. It should now be easier for the agency to evaluate data from overseas: FDA decision-makers can go into the field, see the technology at work and help companies navigate our regulatory process.
Both of us serve on the board of a FDA-Industry Private Public 501C3 charitable partnership to foster research on safe anesthetics for children (Smarttots.org), so we know how tough it is for the FDA to meet its responsibilities. After all, it regulates 25 percent of all commerce. Hopefully with the MDIC (and by learning from some of the things Europeans do better than we do), the FDA can make American industry even more successful and offer patients the options they need for the best outcomes.