The “rich and famous” can hire a personal health advocate to help them with the issues they or their parents face as they age. These advocates help with access to medication, transportation, and other individual challenges.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines an advocate as “one who pleads the cause of others.” ¹ They speak up for their client when they can’t speak up for themselves. While it would be nice for every elderly person to have their own personal health advocate, it is usually left up to family members to advocate on behalf of their parents and relatives rather than employing a paid staff member to help them navigate through the health and medical system.
Your parents need you and family members to:
- Become familiar with their rights
- Work on their behalf
- Understand the intricacies of the services available
- Be there to sign permissions, and
- Resolve and discuss issues related to their healthcare.
Advocacy is essential when your parents reach a certain stage in life where they are unable to keep up with the complexity of the healthcare system. The elderly’s main health advocacy topics revolve around their doctor visits, medication, illnesses and disorders, dementia/Alzheimer disease, and Medicare/Medicaid.
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (James 1:5)
Make Hay While the Sun Shines: Doctor Visits
If possible, you or a family member should accompany the aged to their doctor appointments. This is especially important if your parents have any cognitive disabilities surfacing. Establishing a relationship with your parents’ doctors and an office is the beginning of establishing an agreed-upon working plan for their healthcare.
Writing down questions for the doctor before the visit is always a good idea. You will want to bring a list of your parent’s symptoms with you to discuss with the physician. No matter how trivial a question might seem to you or your parents, it is important to bring it up so the doctor can piece together the entire picture so the best care is given. However, keep in mind doctors only have so much time allotted for your visit, so prioritize your questions and comments to each physician.
Always bring a list of your parent’s medications to all doctor’s appointments. Medication or dosage may change from week to week, so it is critical to inform every physician visited of any changes to vitamins, prescription drugs, and over-the-counter-medicines. In addition, depending on your parent’s insurance policies, you may want to ask your doctor to prescribe the generic medicine if it works as well as the non-generic.
After your visit, record what the doctor said, fill any new prescriptions, talk about the visit with your parents, and write down the next appointment date in your calendar along with a reminder to call for the results of any blood work.
Here Goes! Medication
Many seniors take an agglomeration of medication. It is a daunting task for them and their caregivers to make sure they are labeled correctly and administered properly.
My mother has a medicine that comes in two dosages. The problem is that the pills are the same exact shape and size. One day she wasn’t feeling well and she noticed an irregular heartbeat. After a little detective work, we discovered that she was taking a double dose of medicine because the two pills looked so similar except for the small inscription on the pill. It was quite evident that this double dose was causing a significant problem for her—one that was easily remedied but not always easy to detect.
Polypharmacy is the term used when four or more medications are prescribed to a patient. Most adults over 65 years of age are taking four or more meds and monitoring all their medicines becomes more difficult. Using the same pharmacy for all prescriptions is advantageous and advisable. The pharmacist will have records of all the medicines taken and whether there are possible side effects and interactions with other medicines. Once prescriptions are received, note the ailment that the prescription is for on the bottle or tube.
If your parents aren’t competent, it will be left up to you—the advocate and caregiver—to manage their medications. If they aren’t able, you or a family member will be responsible for doling out, organizing, and storing their medicine.
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
To help with medicine, it is wise to write what ailment all prescriptions are used for on the bottle or tube. Doing so will not only help you, but it will be useful for anyone who might need to take over distributing medicine to your parents.
Prevention is Better Than a Cure: Illnesses and Disorders
The aged are living longer now than previous generations. It follows, then, that as they live into their 80s, 90s, or even their 100s they will encounter a multitude of diseases and disorders. The most common issues affecting seniors are listed below
Accidents, Health Issues, and Disorders
- Bone, joint, and muscle
- Brain, spinal cord, and nerve
- Ears, nose, and throat
- Health issues and disorders of the elderly
- Heart and blood vessel
- Kidney and urinary tract
- Liver and gallbladder
- Lung and airway
- Men’s health issues
- Mental health
- Mouth and dental
- Nutrition and metabolic
- Women’s health issues
As an advocate for your parents, you must be aware and discerning about their condition. It is not uncommon for the elderly to fear to tell you of new symptoms that present themselves. They may be concerned about bothering you or they may be justly concerned that you might move them from their home to a facility if it appears they have too many problems. By telling them you are concerned and asking them to be honest with you, they are more apt to mention any symptoms they notice.
If your parents are having memory problems, their ability to tell you about new symptoms may be diminished.
In This World, Nothing is Certain: Dementia and Alzheimer Disease
As we age, nothing is certain. No one knows what illnesses, if any, may be bestowed on them. But, one of the most devastating diagnoses imaginable is when you and your parents hear the words “dementia” or “Alzheimer’s.”
The terms dementia and Alzheimer’s are often used synonymously to represent any kind of changes in the brain which negatively affect cognitive function. However, they are defined differently.
The Alzheimer Foundation of America defines Alzheimer’s disease as “a progressive, degenerative disorder that attacks the brain’s nerve cells, or neurons, resulting in loss of memory, thinking and language skills, and behavioral changes.” The foundation also defines dementia as “a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Memory loss is an example. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia.”
The signs were already there with my father. My mother and I noticed them gradually over the years. His confusion, inability to calculate a tip, slower reaction time and forgetfulness became more pronounced. By the time we took him to a neurologist, we knew. But when my father heard the word “dementia,” he was affected. It was his reaction that concerned us the most. He became worried about living and being an encumbrance on us, but at the same time was happy to have a name to put with his symptoms. Everyone reacts differently to the news. And, with Alzheimer’s or dementia, your parents may react differently from day to day!
Speaking specifically to Alzheimer’s, there are changes to the brain that have signs and symptoms. While the symptoms vary from one person to the next, some of the most common first symptoms of Alzheimer’s are: ³
- Difficulty with word-finding
- Vision/spatial issues, and
- Impaired reasoning or judgment
- Getting lost
- Changes in personality
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease. If you notice memory and cognitive changes with your parents, make an appointment with a neurologist. They will be able to discuss your parent’s symptoms with both of you. The physician will ask about the overall health of your parents, give memory tests, look at blood work, and possibly perform a CT, MRI, or PET scan to obtain a probable diagnosis. It is important to realize there are other medical conditions that can cause the same symptoms as dementia or Alzheimer’s and the physician will want to rule those out.
Owen Darnell has written a beautiful Alzheimer’s poem titled Do Not Ask Me to Remember. ⁴
Do Not Ask Me to Remember
Do not ask me to remember,
Don’t try to make me understand.
Let me rest and know you’re with me,
Kiss my cheek and hold my hand.
I’m confused beyond your concept.
I am sad and sick and lost.
All I know is that I need you
To be with me at all cost.
Do not lose your patience with me.
Do not scold or curse or cry.
I can’t help the way I’m acting.
Can’t be different though I try.
Just remember that I need you.
That the best of me is gone,
Please don’t fail to stand beside me,
Love me ‘til my life is done.
All Systems Go: Medicare
Lastly, as your parent’s caregiver, overseeing their Medicare or Medicaid is vital.
Medicare is health insurance for people 65 or older, people under 65 with certain disabilities, and people of any age with End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) (permanent kidney failure requiring dialysis or a kidney transplant.
A quick overview of Medicare from Understanding Medicare [medicare.gov] states,
- Medicare Part A helps covers hospital insurance.
- Medicare Part B helps cover medical insurance.
- Medicare Part C is a Medicare Advantage Plan that includes all benefits and services under Part A and B and more.
- Medicare Part D helps cover the cost of prescription drugs.
Medicaid is a federal system providing health insurance to those requiring financial assistance.
Keeping up with the benefits and changes in Medicare or Medicaid is important because it can affect your loved one’s premiums, deductibles, hospital care, drug coverage and more. It is important not to miss deadlines for signing up and/or making changes that will affect your parent’s coverage.
There may be major changes for both Medicare and Medicaid under the new Trump administration. Reform is always in the works. Being vigilant and knowledgeable of these government programs can affect the health and care of your parents.
For more information on Medicare, click on Medicare.gov.
For more information on Medicaid, click on Medicaid.gov.
One Day at a Time: Wrap Up
Advocating for your loved ones can be exhausting and overwhelming. Your spiritual life can be a real comfort during this season. Acting in Christian love will enhance your character and provide a renewed hope for your parents. Some days will be more trying than others. Praying to be the sons and daughters your parents need will give you strength and help you to set a loving tone each day as you handle the infinite issues involved in your parent’s care.
Your parents need you to help them manage and advocate for them through their doctor visits, medication challenges, illnesses, and insurance programs. Concentrate on short-term goals. And proceed “one day at a time.”
So, do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:34)
A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones. (Proverbs 17:22)
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor. (Romans 12:10)
My heavenly Father, I can get so overwhelmed with all the jobs involved in caregiving. You know I love my parents. You know I care, but I get tired. There is so much to do each day. Give me Your strength and wisdom as I face the challenges ahead. Let me wake each day with a renewed love for You and my loved ones. Let me live day by day in Your presence. These things I ask in Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Member Inspirational Writers Alive; Bible Gateway Blogger Grid Member
Coming Soon: Caregiving Part 4: Housing Options for Elderly Parents
Edited by E. Johnson; Bible verses are taken from the NASB if not noted otherwise.
¹ Merriam-Webster Dictionary. merriam-webster.com. Accessed 26 Apr 2017.
² “About Alzheimer’s Disease.” Alzheimer Foundation of America. alzfdn.org/AboutAlzheimers/definition.html. Accessed 12 Dec 2016.
³ “Alzheimer’s Disease Fact Sheet National Institute on Aging Alzheimer’s Disease Fact Sheet.” NationalInstitute on Aging. nia.nih.gov/…/publication/alzheimers-disease-fact-sheet. Accessed 4 Apr 2017.
⁴ Owen, Darnell. “Alzheimer’s Poem: Do Not Ask Me to Remember.” alzheimers.net/2013-08-05/do-not ask-me-to-remember-poem. Accessed Apr 26 2017.
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Books by Patti Greene