The Cycles of Life Part 1
Posted on: 2016 05 16
We think our parents will always be our parents, in the original sense: they will take care of us, they will always be capable, and we can always rely on them. Unfortunately, as many of us have learned, this is just not true. There comes a time when our roles reverse, and it’s difficult, on many levels. I am new to Armistead Senior Care but I am not new to Caregiving. Unlike my colleagues, Heather, Samantha, and Annmarie, I am not a Certified Aging Life Care Professional. I am a daughter, a sister and a mother who is experiencing this role reversal. I went from being a member of Generation X to the Sandwich Generation. The beginning of my Caregiving experience was a long-distance one. I didn’t think of it as Caregiving, I thought of it as “support” but it quickly morphed into crises management: a crash course in multiple chronic diseases, legal terminology, effective communication with family and medical personnel, and navigating social services. When I share my experiences dealing with my aging parents, almost everyone exclaims, “Thank goodness I am not dealing with that!” To them, I say, “Yet.” In fact, those of you that are in the “thank goodness” stage are in a very good place as you have the luxury of time to plan. This series of posts are for you. There are a lot of books and websites devoted to the topic of eldercare. Many give tips and strategies on communication with your aging loved ones as well as with siblings. Family Caregiver Alliance and the National Alliance for Caregiving are great resources, use them, you are not alone in needing them. Take it slow and try not to become overwhelmed. My goal here is to highlight the nuts and bolts of getting ready to help your aging loved ones beginning with the “little things” you need to familiarize yourself with. This is especially important if you are all scattered across the country or even the globe. Use technology, set up meetings and share documents with your family members. Keep the big picture in mind: helping your aging loved ones navigate this phase of their life. It is your turn to be there for them. Communication is key. So much of being prepared is having information. You can begin to gather information by having meaningful conversations with your loved ones: gently addressing their health and how important it is for you to have information and access to information just in case anything were to ever happen. I have found that starting with their health is a good place because it will tell you how comfortable and engaged your loved one is with this phase of their life. Be patient and respectful. If they are agreeable, and I hope they are, you can move forward at the pace with which everyone is comfortable. Medicine:
- Make a list of all medicine (including over-the-counter ones) they take, when they take it, and why they take it.
- Please do not be surprised or get angry if they don’t know why they take it. You can find out more information later from their health care provider and by looking them up online.
- Find out where they keep their medicine and how they remember to take it.
Health Care Providers:
- Make a list of who they see, the name of the practice, the open hours and their on-call procedures, phone and fax numbers, emails and if the practice has an electronic portal for communication.
- Add to your list the medical reason they see each provider. Again, please do not be surprised or angry if your loved ones cannot answer these questions. You may need to sort it all out and that is okay.
- For each health care provider's office inquire about their specific HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) policy and release forms. These forms must be signed by the patient and you (and your siblings, if applicable) and returned to the provider's office. Follow up on the form's return, so you can speak to staff members about your loved one's medical conditions and medications. Once you are on the HIPAA release, you can create an account on their electronic portal which is a great way to communicate with the entire office.
- If the health care providers are affiliated with a hospital in the area, that hospital may have an overarching portal that covers all providers. This is good information to have if or when you are looking for a new provider. For example, the University of Vermont Medical Center has a portal called MyHealth Online and I find it invaluable in helping to manage the care for my parents.
- Once you have learned what medical issues your loved ones have, read up on them. We are fortunate to have the resources at our fingertips. Learn about their conditions from a reputable source and add them to your list.
- Compile all information and share with your aging loved ones, they should keep this important information in their wallets so it is with them in an emergency and they should keep it accessible at home in case emergency personnel come to the house. Many fire departments and drug stores issue emergency medical information kits, sometimes called "Vial of Life." Inquire at the local fire, police, or emergency services office. Usually, they ask all users to keep this information in the same place, like the refrigerator door.
- Compile all information and share with appropriate family members.
- If there is a chronic disease involved, such as diabetes, you may want to discuss a medical identification bracelet. They come in all types of styles, colors and materials and are very helpful with communication in case of emergency. I definitely felt better knowing my loved one had a bracelet on and it was worth it as it was utilized more than once by emergency personnel.
That's a great start to your planning for now. As you can see, there is a lot to be done in laying the groundwork for assisting your aging loved one. If it is too overwhelming or if you do not have the time, you can hire an Aging Life Care Professional (also known as a geriatric care manager). As I mentioned earlier, Armistead Senior Care has three of these professionals on staff; they are members of the Aging Life Care Association (formerly known as the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers). An Aging Life Care Professional is a health and human services specialist who is a guide, advocate, and resource for families caring for an older relative or disabled adult. They have extensive knowledge about the costs, quality, and availability of resources in their communities. There are numerous benefits to using an Aging Life Care Professional, especially if you cannot physically be near your aging loved ones.