Managing Healthcare for Your Elderly Parent


When you take on the role of caregiver, managing a senior's healthcare becomes a full-time job. 

If your elderly relative can't make decisions for themselves, then you may be doing everything from scheduling appointments to making sure that two prescriptions are safe to take together.

Getting organized from the beginning can help make these new responsibilities less stressful. But before you get in too deep, here are some things to consider and some tips.

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Advanced Directives and Legal Protection

Before a family member can legally speak on behalf of their parent in regards to medical care and end of life care, they must obtain an advanced directive.

Quite simply, this is a form that tells medical professionals about the patient's wishes regarding medical procedures, resuscitation, and end-of-life care provided the patient is not able to communicate their wishes at any given time.

If possible, such a form should be completed by a person well in advance of the time when they will need it.

Usually, an advanced directive will name a durable health care power of attorney. This is the person chosen to speak for the elderly person if they cannot do so. This is usually a spouse or close family member who can be trusted to follow the patient's wishes.

As a caregiver, you will need such documentation in order to manage your parent's money and medical expenses, as well as being their medical spokesperson.

Save yourself time, stress and grief by taking care of this paperwork as soon as possible. Without it, you can't help your loved one receive the medical care they desire.

 Choose One Spokesperson For Doctor's Visits  

To avoid confusion at doctor's visits, a decision must be made as to who should be the main advocate. Even if more than one family member shares the responsibility of caregiving, too many advocates can create confusion.

This does not mean that only one person should have a say in any medical and personal care decisions. It does, however, mean that one person should be the most prominent voice. This person should be the one listed in the advance directive.

This is the person  who is responsible for keeping up with all medical records, insurance forms, medication lists, doctor's appointments, etc. This is also the person who speaks to the doctor about any concerns, behaviors, or other issues.

It is fine if other members of the family (especially those who provide hands-on care) are present and willing to offer support, but care should be taken not to create a chaotic environment in the doctor's office with several family members trying to tell things or ask questions at the same time.

Organize Appointments Before You Go

If more than one caregiver wants to voice a concern or ask a question, there is no reason why they need to be physically present at a doctor's appointment. This can be stressful for everyone involved. A better solution is for everyone to sit down before an appointment and organize a list of questions for the doctors.

Along with queries, the list should contain updates about your elderly loved one's behavior changes, dietary changes, etc. Formatting such a list in a precise fashion can help a doctor to understand the worries of the family and address them in the best manner. It also prevents you from suffering sudden memory loss in the doctor's office.


Become Familiar With The Entire Health Care Team

The person in charge of managing their parent's care should take the time to get to know the different doctors, nurses, therapists and specialists that provide care.

Diplomacy can go a long way toward ensuring better medical attention. Be courteous, organized and punctual. Keep a list of medications and dosages handy. Make certain that all medical professionals know what medications and therapies (including home remedies, vitamins, and herbs) are being taken by your elderly relative. This can prevent any dangerous drug interactions.

Ask Direct, Pointed Questions

Doctors and other health care professionals can sometimes be as vague as politicians. Usually this is because they don't yet have answers to your questions. Or perhaps your question was non-specific. In this case, the doctor will usually give you an answer that makes you feel optimistic, without actually providing you with any data.

A question such as " Will Mom feel better soon?" is non-specific. No test known to mankind can answer this question. However, a doctor will probably answer you with a similarly vague answer, such as " We will just have to see." or " Well, we are doing everything we can to ensure that she does."

For adequate communication between caregivers and care providers, questions should be asked in a direct manner, and should focus on objective information (readable signs) rather than subjective opinion:

  • Is this procedure likely to cause a lot of pain?

  • What possible side effects of this medicine should I be aware of?

  • Are there any changes we should implement in Dad's diet to help with his cholesterol levels?

These are questions that a doctor can actually answer!

Manage Medical Expenses and Health Insurance Responsibly

A caregiver is responsible for seeing that their parent has proper medical care. This also means they need to manage any insurance and medical bills if their relative is unable to do so.

Since the elderly can often amass a hefty amount of paperwork, medical records and insurance forms, an adequate filing system is a must. Everyone's medical information should be filed in separate locations to make access easier and quicker in case of an emergency.

Research various programs and insurance carriers to help cover unexpected medical expenses. Talk to physicians about substituting generic medications to help lower the cost of prescriptions.

Educate Yourself About Certain Healthcare Procedures and Tasks

Although it may not be a pleasant prospect, as a caregiver you may be faced with performing tasks that were once performed by medical professionals. If home health assistance is not an option, you may be expected to change adult diapers, give showers or baths, give injections, provide catheter care and dress wounds.

For most people, these tasks will never be easy. It is especially difficult to perform painful procedures on a loved one. The best way to become confidant in these duties is by becoming as educated as possible.

Speak to those who work in the medical profession for advice. Ask your doctor or nurse to demonstrate proper technique and to monitor you while you practice. The more confidant you are in your skills, the less likely that you will cause un-necessary discomfort to your loved one. In turn, they will be more likely to cooperate during these tasks.

Take Lots of Notes

You may feel too overwhelmed to write down all the things that happen during the day. Keeping a journal or log though can help you communicate better to your parent's doctor.

You don't have to rewrite "War and Peace" here, just jot down notes for the day about aches, pains, behaviors, moods, meals, etc. A normal daily planner with a place for short notes should work just fine. Here is a cheerful planner and journal set that can help you organize everything about your caregiving year!

Help Yourself As A Caregiver

It may take a few months to become comfortable with your new role as advocate for your parent's health. If you are organized and proactive, the routine will become much easier. Be sure that you have a good health care team.

If you feel at any time that your loved one is not receiving the proper care or that your concerns are being ignored, don't be afraid to change doctors. It may seem awkward at first to take control of such decisions, but having a proper system will make caregiving easier for you and easier on your elderly loved one.