Evaluating New Medical Information

By the UCLA/USC Long Term Care Gerontology Center

Question: My mother-in-law called yesterday to say she heard on television of a new cure for arthritis. A drug treatment had been developed and was soon going to be available. She was looking forward to a winter with less suffering from her often painful and crippling disease.

Answer: How can one evaluate the validity of medical information? We are bombarded with health advice. Newspapers have articles on health and a growing number of syndicated columns are written by medical experts providing health tips. Television newscasts are not complete without a daily health report. Everyone with a medical problem looks for a quick cure.

An important first clue to assuring reliability is to determine the source of the information. Some report research that has not yet been clinically verified by other investigators or may be based on studies of only a few patients. Others report "cures" based on animal research that takes years to extend to practical solutions for human beings.

Unfortunately, more often than we like to acknowledge, promising new treatments don't pan out after repeated testing. Many new therapies benefit only a small number of patients.

Each of us responds differently to treatment, and what may be appropriate for one arthritis sufferer may not be appropriate to another because of co-existing diseases or conditions. Most reports do not adequately describe the population studied; thus it is difficult to determine the general applicability of the results.

If you read of a new therapy or treatment that interests you, bring the article with you to discuss with your doctor at your next scheduled appointment.

Q: My husband will be turning 62 and retiring in three months. I am panicked because he has neither the desire to work part-time nor any hobbies or activities. I chat on the phone daily with my friends and am active with my church group and craft club. I'm afraid he'll drive me crazy and we'll end up at each other's throats. What should I do?

A: Your husband's initial reaction to retirement may not be his long-lasting one. He has probably worked most of his life, and the prospect of being released from daily job responsibilities can be enticing. Some employers offer retirement-planning services. If your husband's employer does, issues related to post-retirement activities will be raised and may give him food for thought.

It is important that your husband feel good about himself and continue to feel that he is a contributing member of society. Talk about what activities he might enjoy doing alone and with you. Is he interested in gardening, cooking, working with his hands, or participating in sports? What about season tickets to a favorite team, or to matinee performances by a theater group (when seats are less expensive)? Always inquire about senior-citizen discounts.

In time, your husband may decide that he is interested in working part-time for his own well-being, financial reasons, or both. Options include paid and volunteer opportunities. He may want to join in activities informally with retired friends, or formally through clubs or organizations.

Regardless of how your husband chooses to spend his time, maintain your own friendships and interests. His retirement may require some modification in your life style, but individual fulfillment will help make your life as a couple more satisfying.

Q: My 86-year-old grandmother is in a nursing home. What I saw when I visited her last week was heartbreaking. Grandma's arms were tied to the chair and she was calling out for help. Grandma is confused, but is tying her down necessary?

A: Restraints (cloth bands holding one to a chair or bed) may be used in nursing homes only under a doctor's order. According to the American Health Care Assn., only two circumstances warrant their use: if the resident is confused and unaware of the harm she may cause herself or someone else or if the person has severe physical limitations and is unable to maintain her body position.

Check with the home's administrator or director of nursing to see if a physician's order has been issued, and if so, why the restraints have been deemed necessary.

Check in on your grandmother to be sure that the bindings are being removed and repositioned and her body position shifted at regular intervals. Though it is painful for you to see her restrained, it may be necessary for your grandmother's safety.

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