The time arrives when the roles reverse. The years parents lovingly carried you to the doctor when you were ill has now taken an about face. You, the child, are now in charge of your aging parent’s care. What do you do?
It’s a shock when the roles reverse. As children we remember the strength and dependability we’ve found in our parents. When the realization that these things are slipping hits, we’re a bit taken back. The key to getting a handle on your new role is to first sit back and take a deep breath. Give yourself a day to absorb the change and yes, to mourn just a bit. It’s sad when we realize our parents are no longer able to care for themselves. There’s a certain amount of fear attached. Will I make the right decisions? What would mom or dad want? What about the finances? It’s easy to go into caregiver overload. So take a day. Enjoy memories of the past and then move on into the present. There’s no reason wonderful memories can’t continue, but the key lays in how we handle the situation.
Make a Notebook
A simpe three-ring binder from the local Wal-Mart can make all the difference in the world. It becomes your brain book. Take time to make one. Add paper, dividers that list things like appointments, notes from appointments, questions, physician names and phone numbers. A tab for medications is valuable to note medication changes and what meds your parents are currently taking.
Make a List of Physicians
Take time to sort through the list of doctors who care for your parents and consider what and who can be consolidated into medical groups rather than individual doctors. Sometimes health issues will not allow this but if possible, narrowing the care to one or two primary physicians allows for a cleaner plan of care. Doctors in the same group can talk, work together and plan necessary medical care for your loved one. If your parent is in a medical situation which will not allow this consolidation, the list all the names, numbers and addresses of physicians and add them to a notebook for convenience. Add the hospital of choice and the number as well as the ambulance service of choice to this book. Having this at your fingertips is a life saver.
Choose a Family Liaison
If there are siblings, choose one to be the liaison between family and physicians. This person will attend medical appointments, take notes, ask questions and gather suggestions on behalf of the other family members. The adage, “too many cooks in the kitchen” is true. When too many individuals have a hand in this very important communication, misunderstandings and miscommunications happen. Choose one person to manage this part of your parents care and let them handle the questions, make the family communications and set appointments.
Add complete notes for each medical visit to the care notebook. Include any suggestions or changes to medical care or medications.
Make sure the Legal Work is Done
Make sure you have dual power-of-attorney in place. Secure medical and personal power-of-attorney so in the event of an emergency you have the power to care for your parent as needed. Keep a copy in your car, with each family member, and even post a set of legal papers on the refrigerator in the event EMS must come into the home. Add these papers to your notebook as well.
Monitor Medical Care
If you are not getting the attention you feel your parent needs with their current physicians, exercise your right to find a new doctor. The fit between physician and patient must be tight and good. You must feel secure in the attention. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. In emergency situations fear will sometimes slip in. Remember, even in fear, be kind in your communications. If you find it difficult to discuss a medical situation with a calm attitude and firm kindness, find someone who can help you communicate clearly.
Get help if you Need It
If you need caregivers to help with the care and safety of your parents, get help. Yes, there is a cost involved but having this help does two things 1) it offers respite in the care of seniors for the family 2) it gives a second set of eyes watching over the needs of your loved one.
Invest in a Personal Medical Alert System
A PERS unit or personal medical alert system is vital especially if your parents are still living alone. A small necklace or bracelet is worn and if a parent falls or becomes ill, they simply press the button. Costs run from $29-$45 per month. Check out companies who offer the service monthly rather than locking clients into a contract and advocate for a service who clients must speak to personally during an emergency rather than having 911 services dispatched if they are not needed. (see our resource page)
Role reversal is hard. But the path can be smooth for just a little preparation. Take time to make ready the path. When the time arrives to walk it, you’ll have an easy to follow map.