Taking care of an aging parent is a little like trying to navigate a ship to shore in a thick fog.
The first thing you need to do if you notice a change in your parents’ ability to live independently is to have a family talk with them to find out their wishes, needs and resources. The issues you uncover can be complex, so you may find the best way to stay above water is to gather a “dream crew” of experts. Here is your crew:
It is not uncommon for the elderly to see several physicians. Make sure all of the physicians are “in the plan” your parents use for medical insurance and all have practice privileges at the designated hospital. Try to accompany your parents to their medical appointments so you can share concerns you may have about their health. Make sure to bring along a complete list of all the medicines they use including prescription, nonprescription, vitamins, herbals and homeopathic products. This would be a good time to verify doses, instructions for use, and whether allergies are listed correctly in their medical records.
Try to have all of your parents’ prescriptions filled at one pharmacy so they can establish a complete medication record, screen for drug interactions and help detect potential problems. Work with your pharmacist to organize their medications. The pharmacist can make a drug calendar so you will know the best time of day for the medicine to be taken. Have several copies of your parents’ medication list posted for easy viewing throughout the house and to carry in a wallet or purse. Make sure emergency personnel are shown the list, and take it with you should a parent require hospitalization. Prescription records may not be readily available upon arrival at the hospital, so having an accurate list of medicines can provide life-saving information.
Make sure your parent or their caretaker is able to grocery shop, prepare foods and has a basic knowledge of how to put together a balanced meal. The elderly are generally much more sedentary, so caloric requirements and appetites may differ. A dietitian can be a great resource for checking the nutritional value of your parents’ diet and helping to design special diets if required.
A geriatric social worker can help assess your parents’ activities including their ability to drive, self-medicate, buy and prepare meals, bathe, use the bathroom, dress, get in and out of bed, do laundry, pay bills, etc. Is the home elder-safe? There should be railings in the bathroom and on the stairs. Functioning smoke alarms are a necessity. Are your parents able to dial 911 in an emergency or would they benefit from a lifeline system? A social worker can determine if your parents can live independently, or if they require partial- or full-time assistance.
Whether your parents can live independently or require care, there are costs associated with day-to-day living that need to be addressed. Can they afford to pay out of pocket costs for doctor visits, prescriptions and groceries? What is the extent of their medical insurance coverage? Do they have any type of long term care insurance that will help to cover the cost of home care if needed? As people are living longer, they often find themselves depleting retirement funds and requiring the family’s assistance.
There are many legal issues to consider as our parents age including establishing a durable power of attorney for healthcare and financial decisions, and a living will which includes a medical directive for use of advanced technologies to prolong life.
With this supporting team of resources, you’ll be more prepared and able to face the challenges as a true advocate for elder care.