Across the world, many societies are judged by how they treat and care for their elders. In this country, it can become easy in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, to assume that our loved ones are receiving the treatment they need. After a lifetime of caring for us, it can be hard to have that conversation with your family member, especially if they do not want to feel like they are being a burden on anyone. It can be difficult to know when or if it is time to intervene in your elder loved one’s healthcare to be sure they are receiving the best care. My mother had a doctor’s appointment last week and I was reminded of the importance of communication when it comes to elder care and the aging process. Several years ago, as my brothers and sisters and I became more involved in my mother’s care, it wasn’t until she was describing doctor’s appointment that we became aware of what she was actually telling us. As we started comparing notes among ourselves, we determined that she was only sharing with us what she wanted us to know. Now we know that this is a common occurrence among the elderly as they do not want to be a problem for anyone or feel like a burden in any way. Carrying this observation a step forward, we all felt that if she was communicating with us in this fashion, then she must certainly be doing the same thing with her doctors. We also believed that there was no way that her doctors or her family could have an accurate picture of what was really going on. Needless to say, this was not a good situation for any of us, especially her. Our solution was having one of us go to her doctor’s appointments with her to ensure that the doctor was hearing what was really going on as well as we were hearing what the doctor’s thoughts and actions were.
I was chosen to explain our concerns and our proposed plan with my mother. I was upfront with her and I explained that in order for us to be more helpful to her in managing her healthcare related issues and concerns, we needed to have the whole story. Prior to this agreement, we felt as if we were trying to put a puzzle together without having all of the pieces. It was a frustrating experience. Thankfully, my mother understood our concerns and agreed to our participation with her in her medical care. My brother and sister are very tuned into medical sciences and also live within a couple of hours of my mother. They agreed that they should be the ones to attend my mother’s doctor’s appointments with her. Our comfort level with my mother’s health-related information has definitely improved. I also believe that my doctors are pleased to be dealing with better information as well. We may wish that the information on our mother’s deteriorating situation was more positive, but we are confident that what we are dealing with is correct.
I have mentioned in previous posts, the importance of communication as it relates to care in the aging process. I have also mentioned how critically important good communication is to the healthcare/medical care aspects of the aging process. Getting the best medical care is just not possible without accurate, complete and honest information between all parties. Communication between your parents, the doctor and caregivers are one of the most important factors in getting good care and it doesn’t just happen automatically. You have to work at it. In some cases, the distance can be overcome with conference calls, email messages and mobile apps such as Facetime, Skype, Tango and Facebook Messenger. Additionally, if you find yourself in a caregiver role – whether it is long distance or local- keep this point in mind: know what you need to know. Experienced caregivers recommend that you learn as much as you can about your parent’s illness, medications, and resources that might be useful to you both. This information can help you understand what is going on, anticipate the course of an illness, prevent crises and assist in healthcare management. It can also make talking with doctors easier. I know that taking these actions have improved our situation.
A final note: Make sure that at least one family member has written permission to receive medical information. Intervening in your loved one’s healthcare can be difficult but if you constantly remind them that it is out of love and concern, it can smooth a once rocky road. Remind them that they have not done anything wrong and your involvement does not mean you do not trust them to make their own decisions. Just as they have cared for and worried about you, you feel the same way as you only want health and happiness for them, come what may.
I will keep you posted as our experience continues.
We hope you will take some time and look through our podcast resources for more helpful insight and education on caring for your elderly adult loved one.