Advice-giving, Aging Parents & Adult Children

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My parents and me.

Advice-giving can trip up the elder parent – adult child relationship and even cause painful divisions between parent and child.

My mother will ask me a question and the answer is fairly straightforward, but then I’ll keep on answering, advising, really. At other times, I offer unsolicited advice about one thing or another. Usually my mother listens, but it’s not uncommon for her to give me the aggravated look that she used when I was five years old and not following her directions. It’s miraculous that my parents, while momentarily irritated with me, are quick to forgive and, yes, even offer me their own advice. We trust one another, and that’s key.

I know that I should be better about offering too much advice, but it’s hard.

A thoughtful article, The Gift of Presence, the Perils of Advice, posted at Krista Tippett’s On Being website, has encouraged me to think about the advice I so effortlessly offer my mom. In his essay, On Being columnist Parker J. Palmer writes that people who need support find it considerably more helpful when we concentrate on listening and asking questions and give advice only when a person insists that we give it. I need to get better at asking questions.

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Does More Care Do More Good?

When we are sick, how much health care is good health care? These days when we call an ambulance, the medics rush in with all sorts of equipment and medications — called advanced life support, which replaces the basic life support that many of us learned in CPR classes.

Doing More for Patients Often Does No Good, a January 12, 2015 article appearing in the New York Times, makes the point that more advanced therapies and medical care do not guarantee higher quality or better outcomes. Written by Aaron E. Carroll, M.D., the piece shares a study in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine that compared the outcomes for patients who had received life support — basic or advanced — before being admitted to the hospital. He also writes about other studies that appear to show how the most advanced emergency care does not necessarily mean longer survival.

Dr. Carroll, a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University Medical School, further reinforces this “more may be less” point of view by describing studies that show how women with breast cancer receive complex and also more expensive breast surgical cancer treatments that are no more effective than outcomes with a more standard breast conservation therapy.

This article requires readers to process fairly complex explanations about medical care, and it may be necessary to read some paragraphs more than once. Yet, it’s worth taking the time to understand that doing more medical care in many cases will not give us extra quality or a better outcome.