Monday, February 15, 2010

Advocacy 101: Working For Your Parent

Chances are good your aging parent will need an advocate—someone to work on his or her behalf. If you’re nominated, you may end up in the office of a physician, a financial planner or possibly a nursing home charge nurse. You’ll glean information, offer your perspective and if needed, spark positive change.

According to educational materials produced by E. Joy Kane, PhD, elder advocacy involves three parties: the person in need of help (your parent), the person who has the knowledge and/or resources (you, the advocate) and the power broker (the person who can make life better for your parent.)

Many adult children shine as advocates. One son stands out. Several years ago he sat across the table from me. His mother wanted to live in HUD housing, and as the retirement community’s admissions director, it was my call to determine if this was a good fit. But one big obstacle blocked the way. His mother had "forgotten" several appointments and when I called to reschedule, she didn't recognize me.

Her son acknowledged Mom had been diagnosed with dementia. I walked a fine line. Denying housing would violate the Americans With Disabilities Act. But would this woman be safe in independent living? I expressed my concerns.

“I live a mile away," he said. "I'll check on her daily, deliver her food and do her laundry. And I'll watch for signs of wandering." He continued, “I know she will need assisted living someday. But for now, we want to give this a try.” His mom moved in. I held my breath. True to his word, though, this son fulfilled his promise, placing her well-being first. I was impressed.

Three tips for advocates:

1. Your primary responsibility is your parent’s welfare. His or her needs are paramount.
2. Don’t take over any duties or responsibilities in the medical or financial areas without consulting your parent. The exception is if they suffer from dementia or are gravely ill.
3. Effective advocacy involves respect for the power broker. Together you can make a difference in your parent's life.(See the upcoming post titled "Me, an Advocate? Ya Betcha.")

Would you like to share an advocacy situation you’ve been involved in? Have you learned any lessons about yourself from working on your parent’s behalf?

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