Thursday, July 1, 2010

Your Aging Parent Needs a Great Advocate: You!

Everyone needs an advocate. Especially your aging parent.

The value of advocacy hit home with me a decade ago. Home alone on a Saturday, I slipped down the stairs while attempting to carry out the trash. Boom! A broken ankle. The four-hour wait in the emergency room was easy street compared to Monday morning when I phoned for a referral to an orthopedist.

"The referral manager doesn't work Mondays," said the young woman. The Vicodin had eased my pain but muddled my brain. I was a health care professional, but the words I needed escaped me. Finally I blurted out:

"Someone in your office should be able to facilitate referrals, even on Monday."

Hours later, after many phone calls, I sat in the orthopedist's office, thinking to myself, " I really need an advocate."

So do our aging parents, on an ongoing basis. We interpret life, speak for them to authorities and serve as their cheerleader. Several qualities will help us do our best in the advocacy role.

1. Compassion. Good advocates place the welfare of their parents above everything else. Money, power and selfishness are cast aside. That doesn't mean we don't make mistakes, get tired of the role, or sometimes wonder, "How did I get into this?" But our mission--to help them finish life well--enables us to advocate well.

2. A Desire to Learn. There are so many bodies of knowledge to master: legal, financial, medical. The more we know, the better questions we can ask of the doctors, financial planners, lawyers and others in our parent's lives. The more we know, the clearer we can communicate with our parents.

3. A strong sense of ourselves. This is not to be confused as selfishness. But knowing who we are will keep us from being stepped on by others, including our siblings or our parents.

4. A willingness to ask for help. Advocacy sometimes is more than one person can bear. Finding partners--paid or unpaid--to share the load eases our burden. In addition, taking a break--for a few hours, a few days, or even a few weeks--can help us come back to our parents refreshed and renewed.

These qualities don't come packaged for us to unwrap. We develop them by seeing other advocates, and by doing the job ourselves. As our mothers said, "Practice makes perfect."

What is your most difficult task or role in serving as an advocate for your aging parent?

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