Q: My 87-year-old mother has been having some rather serious health problems recently in addition to a cognitive decline which started several years ago. My 91-year-old father takes her to all medical appointments which for a long time was fine. Lately I have noticed he doesn’t seem to always understand why certain medications have been prescribed or exactly what tests have shown. They call me afterwards and then expect me to try and interpret what is happening. They have in a subtle way suggested it would be helpful for me to start accompanying them to appointments. What should I be doing to make this work for all involved?
A: The older your parents get and the more complex their medical conditions become increases the importance of someone assuming the role of informed medical advocate. The first step to take is to make sure all health care providers are aware you are becoming involved and have your parents’ permission to openly discuss their care directly with you.
Many caregivers have found it very beneficial to maintain a notebook with all medical information neatly organized. This is a place to keep a list of all medications, previous surgeries or procedures, insurance providers, allergies, and family medical history. Also note changes detected, both physical and mental, in either of your parents. Include a section for taking notes during appointments, this will prove invaluable if questions arise at a later time.
Don’t ever be afraid to ask questions either because you think the inquiry may sound trivial or may come across in a challenging manner. There is an art to becoming an effective and strong advocate. For some people it may come easily, for others it will be a learning experience.
Be assertive in demanding the best possible health care for your loved ones. Ask for a second opinion when in doubt; this doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t trust the original diagnosis. Getting a second opinion is a way of confirming a diagnosis, validating a suggested plan of treatment or gaining additional information. Often this results in heightened confidence in moving forward.
Even though you are starting to take a more active role regarding your parents’ care, keep them involved as much as possible. Discuss current situations to stay in tune with their feelings and wishes. Include them in conversations with health care providers, talking with them not over them.
We encourage inquiries and comments from our readers. Direct correspondence to email@example.com or Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc. 360 Merrimack Street B#5, Lawrence, MA 01843. Rosanne DiStefano is the Executive Director of Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc. For additional information or to schedule an appointment call 1-800-892-0890.