Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Advocating for Your Aging Parent at the Doctor's, Part Two

Fifteen minutes to solve the world's problems? Or cure your aging parent's ills? I can't promise a miracle, but I have found a few keys that have helped me and others advocate for their parent at the doctor's office.

Prepare, prepare, prepare. A little forethought goes a long way. Consider investing in a "black book." True, the color doesn't matter. What does is your dated observations, questions, and comments about your parent's health,such as "June 15: Daddy has lost 10 pounds in the last month without trying. What's up?" The notebook is also a place to jot down a medication list and specific questions for the doctor.

Don't bite off more than you can chew. Your parent's diagnoses have multiplied over the years. He or she may be willing to wax eloquent about bunyons, warts and you name it. Your time with the physician is miniscule, however. Together with your parent, stick to one main concern.

Tip off the doctor. Doctors can advocate with you if they know in advance your concern. If, for example, your dad has experienced two fender benders in several months, you might want to call his doctor before the visit. Ditto if you feel your parent isn't safe at home. Advance knowledge about the problems help physicians use their persuasive powers to influence seniors.

Question, clarify and translate for your parent. During the visit, if your doctor speaks too rapidly and is losing your parent's attention, ask him or her to repeat. Periodically, summarize your understanding of what's been said and ask for clarification. You might say, "I think I heard you say ...Am I right?" Take notes. Afterwards, go over the notes with your parent and anyone else involved in his or her care.

Can you think of other tips on advocating for your aging parent at the doctor's office?

Advocating for Your Aging Parent at the Doctor's--Part One

Your aging parent may need your help at the doctor's office. When do you start accompanying him or her on visits, and how do you work together with the physician?

First the when: If your parent wants you to go, the question is settled! But why is your presence so vital?

Seniors place physicians on pedestals, right next to God. In many elders' eyes, doctors are the keepers of the ultimate truth about the most important thing in life: their health. Ironically, that reverence for medical professionals often keeps seniors from telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Especially about such things as incontinence, memory loss, falls and forgetting to take medications. An answer of "pretty good," to a question about taking medications, may really mean, "I take it once a month, whether I need it or not."

Second, at the visit, a doctor sees and hears at most, a 10 to 15-minute "video clip." You, on the other hand, have been observing your parent's actions and feelings over time. The comings and goings. The waxings and wanings. Your perspective is extremely value. For example, if your parent is losing short-term memory but is socially appropriate, the doctor may miss the same repeated question or phrase you hear every hour or so. So speak up and say, "I've been noticing ..."

Third, two heads are better than one. If your parent's doctor slips into "Medicalese" or explains complex information too quickly, your parent may miss out. You, as a Boomer, know when to say, "I think we don't quite understand that; could you explain it again." You can also summarize your understanding of the doctor's words--"So if I'm right, you're saying we should do..." Taking notes will also help.

In another post, I'll tackle some "how's" of effective advocacy at the doctor's office.

Have you and your parent's physician worked together well on behalf of your parent? Tell us how.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Advocating Tips: When Your Aging Parent Lives Far Away

Deborah lives in London. But she bounces back and forth between England and Bellevue, Washington, to check on her 83-year-old dad. Last month Deborah moved him into our assisted living community.

As daunting as some days are, over the years Deborah has mastered some tricks to cope with caregiving and advocating from afar. If you, too, live miles and miles away from your aging parent, you may relate to Deborah's ideas and perhaps share some of your own.

1. Use technology to bond you. When miles separate them, Deborah uses Skype to touch base with her dad. "I'm the only daughter, and I feel guilty when I don't know what's going on,"she says, smiling. The visual nature of Skype captures her dad's facial expressions and reactions, giving her a more complete picture than traditional phone calls.

2. Keep in touch with his physician long distance by using the mode of communication the doctor prefers. "Usually before an appointment, I'll send a lengthy fax to the doctor, listing my observations, concerns and questions," she says. Afterwards the doctor faxes her a summary of the visit. Other caregivers from afar say they phone their parent's physician periodically, and especially before key visits.

3. When you're in town, contact your parent's physician and other health care professionals. Note changes, and be willing to accept their advice in making a move to assisted living, finding home care services, etc.

4. If your parent's condition changes, consider hiring an advocate to accompany him to his physician's visits. Deborah is thinking seriously about this. She is also considering asking a friend or paid advocate to attend care conferences at her dad's assisted living and email her or phone her with the report.

Some of you have siblings who live close to your aging parent. How do you partner with them long distance? A future post will cover some ideas.
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