Ask Leslie

What to Do When Mom Won't Accept Help + Advice for Millennials Who Plan to Live Forever.

Question: I’m a young guy in my late 20s with no health issues. I have insurance through my employer and, because I’m paying into it, I feel like I should use it. But if I’m not sick, what do I really need a check up for?

Leslie Michelson: The fact that you are in your 20s and you feel fine doesn’t necessarily mean that there aren’t things happening—diseases progressing in your body—that can be detected early when they’re easier to treat more successfully and with fewer side effects.

Here are 4 reasons you should be seeing a primary care physician: 

1. It’s central to being a mature adult. Just as you should have wise mentors, both personal and professional, in your life for the times when you need counsel, by having a good internist in your arsenal—someone you can establish a trusting relationship with—you are being prepared for the day when you fall off your bike, are just feeling lousy, or something worse. 

2. There may be things going on in your body that you can’t perceive, no matter how in tune you are, and which have the potential to turn deadly. The classic examples are diabetes and the cardiovascular risk factors of elevated blood pressure and elevated cholesterol. 

3. You should take advantage of preventative measures your PCP can provide. For example, flu vaccines, HPV vaccines, and early screening for individuals who have a family propensity toward certain diseases with genetic components. Your prevention strategy should be informed by your health status, lifestyle, and family medical history. But you need to sit down with a physician and discuss those issues in order to get the benefit of their clinical judgment as to what’s going to be optimal for you. 

4. Now’s the best time to get a baseline of your overall health. If you have slightly elevated blood pressure, for example, it will be a huge benefit to you in the future if you can establish a baseline now so your physicians can track change over time. Another important area of concern: your skin. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, and its prevalence is rising dramatically among young adults. Your PCP can identify suspicious looking moles that may need to be removed or watched over time. Bottom line: by monitoring your health now in your 20s, while you feel well, you can head off a potentially disastrous health crisis in your later years.

Question: My mom is in her late 80s. Her hearing is getting worse, as is her rheumatoid arthritis. Yet, she refuses to wear her hearing aid and doesn’t want to use a cane. She used a cane for a few days recently when her knee was swollen. But the swelling went down and she says she is fine without it. My siblings and I think she should use it. Could you give me any advice for getting Mom to accept help?

Leslie Michelson: It’s important to recognize that everyone is going through developmental struggles at all phases of life. We’re familiar with the terrible twos, with adolescent rebellion, and with midlife crises. It could be that mom, in her late 80s, is similarly grappling with developmental struggles. And if you treat her like she’s a juvenile who’s misbehaving, you’re never going to reach her.

Author David Solie wrote a terrific book, How to Say It to Seniors, which may be of help to you and your siblings. In it, he gives simple and profound insights as to how to persuade mom to engage in what you perceive to be safer conduct, while also reshaping and strengthening your relationship with her. 

By the way, you’re not alone. I see this issue a lot with very loving families who have strong bonds. A few years ago, I had the pleasure of working with such a family, whose 89-year-old mother I grew to love like she were my own. “Alice” was 89 years old, 4’ 8”, and a firecracker. And when she suddenly came down with a terrible, obstructed small-bowel problem, which wasn’t resolving on its own, her family urged her to have surgery at a major hospital, two hours away from her home.

Alice was in a lot of pain. We knew that if she didn’t have the surgery, she would most likely die. But she put her foot down and said, “I’m 89; I’ve had enough. No more. Let me die.” As hard as it was for the family, they had to back off.

They told her, “Ok, Mom. You’re in charge. It’s your decision.”

Thankfully, she changed her mind and had life-saving surgery. At her 90th birthday party, people flew in from all over the country to celebrate her.

The point is: respecting her sovereignty over her own body was the pivot point, the most important moment. Sometimes families must accept that their loved one is in charge, even if their decisions ultimately give us grief.


Have a question about how to get better health care results? Ask Leslie Michelson here. You can also follow him on Twitter.