"My mom never tells me what her doctor says!" It's a common caregiver lament.
As your parents and other family members get older, they will have medical appointment after medical appointment, with a variety of professional doctors, nurses, social workers, physiotherapists, etc. An aging adult may have difficulty remembering the details of each of these appointments, as one specialist blends into another. Or, due to memory problems, an older patient may not be able to accurately report the details of any health or cognitive concerns they have.
In some family relationships, parents do not want their children to have knowledge of their own health situation, or they could feel uncomfortable including their children because doing so would reverse their role from caregiver to care receiver. However, this does not stop adult children from worrying! In fact, it makes it more difficult for family caregivers to support aging relatives in their needs when they are blocked from the process.
Here are a few tips to help you overcome this hurdle:
- Write down provider contact information: Buy a journal or make an excel spreadsheet and record all of the names, addresses, phone numbers and area of specialties of each health care professional with whom they have contact.
- Record medical conditions and medications: Include the diagnosis or problem treated by each of these health care professionals, as well as the medication prescribed (dose, time of day, etc.).
- Have an emergency plan: Document the emergency procedure to contact these professionals in a time of crisis as well as their normal office/clinic hours.
- Get permission to talk with the doc: Encourage your family member to sign an Authorization with each professional so you have the legal authority to exchange information.
- Encourage them to ask questions: Suggest that your family member bring a list of questions and concerns to each appointment, then have them document the answers. Include your questions on this list and give it to your loved one to bring to the appointment.
- Get to know your neighborhood pharmacist: Document the pharmacy name and location for each medication prescribed so you can discuss any medication concerns or interactions with the pharmacist.Make sure your family member signs an Authorization at each pharmacy.
- Make a master list: Include all medical diagnosis, medications, surgical history, current treatment regimens and treating physicians. Ask your parent to keep this list in their wallet or purse, in the case of an emergency. Place a copy of this form on the refrigerator and near each phone in their home.
- Prepare essential legal documents: Encourage your parent to draft a Continuing/Durable Power of Attorney and/or Living Will so they will be ensured you can act on their behalf, if necessary.
- Keep tabs on appointment times: If your loved one has memory problems, it is especially important for you to help keep track of the dates and times of the appointments so that you can remind him or her, if necessary.
- Help their doctor help them: If your loved one will not allow you to attend medical appointments and he or she will not share information with you, but you have concerns about significant health and safety issues, write an email or letter to the doctor. In this way, you are not asking for the doctor to break your loved one's confidentiality. You are only offering details for which the doctor to follow-up.
The above information is the basic information needed to assist your parents or an aging relative with their health functioning. It is equally important to organize all of their personal and financial affairs to ensure that you can provide comprehensive support in all aspects of their life when the time approaches.