By Penny Golden, RN
As science progresses and people are living longer, many of us find ourselves faced with helping to care for aging family members. This can be a confusing process. Which doctor does Mom see for her heart? Where does she get her prescriptions filled? If Dad can’t drive, how will he get his groceries? With a few simple organizational and practical tips, navigating your way through elder care can become manageable.
Ideally, steps should be taken before an aged person becomes too incapacitated to help with the process of planning for elder care.
Unfortunately, many people are uncomfortable discussing getting older, but trying to sort out doctors and medications and even who to call when a loved one dies can add more stress to an already stressful time. This is a situation where “an ounce of prevention REALLY IS worth a pound of cure!”
Accurate and regularly updated lists can help organize care of your elderly loved ones: medications; doctors and their specialties, phone numbers, fax numbers and addresses; health history, hospitalizations and surgeries; friends’ names and phone numbers. Keep all important lists in a file in a safe but easy to find location – i.e. a brightly colored file folder on top of the refrigerator.
Older people often take multiple medications prescribed by multiple doctors. Keeping a current list of medications is imperative — there can be dire consequences if some medications are mixed. Bring the list with when your loved one goes to a doctor; it can save time and possibly a life. Include on the list the medication name, dose, what it is for, times it is taken, and who prescribed it. If a medication is added or a dosage is changed, be sure to update the list accordingly. Include the phone number or email for the pharmacy where prescriptions are filled. If you have questions about a medication, ask the pharmacist!
Because so many doctors are specialists, your family member may have several doctors to visit on a regular basis. Keeping a list of doctors and their contact information can help determine who should be contacted in an emergency or for specific symptoms. Keep a printout of directions to and from the doctors’ offices to help people who are bringing the patient to appointments.
Keeping an accurate health history with important papers can save valuable time at doctors’ appointments or emergency room visits. No one wants to have a test redone if it was done recently, and knowing when tests were done can also be helpful for comparisons. Keeping a running list of illnesses, injuries, tests and hospitalizations can help during current health crises.
Often people overlook the role friends play in their lives. At times, older people might feel more comfortable turning to a friend than turning to family. Keep a list of friends and their contact information handy. If you need answers to questions about your parents, aunt or uncle or grandparent, their friends may be your best resource. In addition, your loved one would want his or her friends contacted in the event of their death, so having all those names and numbers on one list can help at that time as well.
A Few More Helpful Ideas
Funeral planning should be done when individuals are healthy and able to let you know their wishes. Burial or cremation? Funeral Mass or memorial service? Flowers or memorial donations? What are their favorite hymns? Some individuals may even want to write their own obituary, or make a list of scriptures they want read at their funeral. Once you have these answers, write them down!
For a family member who can no longer drive or needs transportation for a short period of time, some grocery stores and pharmacies offer delivery. Check into these BEFORE you actually need the service. Another option is mail order medications, which can be sent in three month supplies and may be more economical.
Companion services can help your loved one stay in their own home. These services often include not only direct care of individuals, but light housekeeping, meal preparation, transportation services and grocery shopping.
Aging can be difficult for individuals and their families, but being prepared for aging can help! Facing later years head-on in a logical manner can prevent a world of stress and complications. Helena Rubenstein said, “Hard work keeps the wrinkles out of mind and spirit.” A little hard work can also keep the wrinkles out of elder care!