• Sharon King Todd

Aging Parents…Start Here! How to hang onto your aging parents care baton.

Do you understand the healthcare landscape well enough to ensure the best support for your parents if they end up in the hospital? Elder care planners and advocates do! My role frequently lands me in hospitals navigating complex healthcare systems with adult children of older adults. Staying afloat during a health crisis is never easy, however with older adults many crises can be avoided by proactive planning and engaging in essential conversations.

Many of us are living longer and therefore managing life with more than one chronic illness and many medications. With older adults, health problems are seldom cut and dried. Professionals with a broad understanding of geriatric care can help families learn in more detail what impact health issues will have over time.

For example, your mother might go to hospital with a broken hip from a fall, but the fall could be the outcome of Delirium . The delirium may have been caused by a urinary tract infection, caused by dehydration, due to their medication for heart failure, or simply caused by a combination of a sedentary lifestyle and dehydration. As you can see, there is often more to deal with beyond the presenting complaint. The good news is that there is usually effective treatment of delirium, which normally is a temporary condition. Family members who can help identify a shift in their parent’s behavior is helpful for the physician’s diagnosis.

If you want to be your mother’s advocate in hospital, a proactive approach will ensure the best patient experience. You always need to be on the look out to ensure the care baton is not dropped during your mother’s stay. Your mother is your only concern, whereas the nurses are concerned about a whole roster of patients and may not have the time they need to manage every event through a day.

The scenario mentioned above can be avoided if you are open to the idea that you and your siblings need to understand the risks a parent may face simply by living at home and quietly enjoying their independence. Everyone can be empowered by knowing in advance that exercising Power of Attorney/substitute decision tools when parents are unable to make decision for themselves at that time, it critical to positive outcomes.

As part of your role, during a parent’s stay in hospital with potential inactivity and loss of independence, family or substitute decision makers may need to intervene and advocate on the parent’s behalf so she can get back on her feet. Starting mobility exercises and routines after discharge is often not as successful as starting right at the beginning of the hospital stay.

You can help your parents with their mobility yourself or you can bring in a professional to work with them on a daily basis to ensure they are able to maintain their muscle tone.

It is often helpful, in order to reduce family anxiety and the patient’s well-being, for families to hire a Personal Support Worker to ensure that a parent is in good hands during the times you are not able to be at their bed side. It is best to discuss this with the nurse manager at the hospital beforehand.

All that being said, maintaining a positive parent child relationship can enable the family at large to strategize for the future. If you don’t have a good parent – child relationship, which is unfortunately sometimes the case, you are not alone. This is where a planner/advocate can help facilitate those essential conversations to get the whole family on the same page and path for success.

Being prepared in this way can greatly advance the success of a hospital stay. Doctors and nurses usually watch for signs that a family is ready to have an essential conversation. They can pick signals up by the kinds of questions they are asked.

The first thing that a triage nurse might ask in emergency is: do you wish to be resuscitated if your heart stops? This is a question that needs to be discussed within the family as a whole. If this question is not addressed proactively the staff would be required by law to do chest compression's and apply electrical paddles even though this is not a desirable treatment for the elderly because aged bones may be broken in the process and they are not likely to recover their former level of ability. Yes, it is an uncomfortable conversation, but it's better to have it then be caught off guard.

When planning for discharge out of hospital, you parent’s safety risks need to be assessed at home and extra support put in place if your parent’s strength has declined as a result of the event that took them to hospital.

Now may be a good time consider how long your mother can stay at home. What the cost of extra help will be? How will it be paid for and how will it be managed. Ensuring the best quality of life is what we all aim for. As these issues are within your control, why not plan for them and start by getting to know you parents goals and needs; get to know their current health snapshot.

If it is too difficult, then a third party and non-family member like a planner/advocate can help. Being unbiased, as professional life advocates must be, parents are often more likely to listen to an expert with no prior relationship or past issues.

The Elder's Advocate - Logo.png

Big or small, there’s no problem we can’t solve together.