The phone rings. Your 80-year old mother has fallen. They suspect she has broken her hip. An ambulance is on its way.
Whether the relationship with your mother is strained or loving, you live near or far, you are her only child or one of six, most likely you will play a role in her recovery.
Seniors often feel hospitalization is “overwhelming and terrifying.” They say doctors expect them to understand complicated instructions and make decisions while they are in pain or in the fog of medication.
Probably two of the most important roles we can play in the lives of our aging parents are as advocate and planner.
If you think you might be asked to be your parents’ advocate during their hospitalization, there are 10 things you should help them plan for in advance:
1. Have your parents appointed you as their medical, legal or financial durable power of attorney? If not, who is?
The person your parents appoint as their POA will make decisions when your parents are not capable. The POA will be the one that doctors, insurance companies and discharge planners will communicate with.
If you are not your parents’ POA, have they designated one of your siblings? Do you get along with that sibling? Have you talked about how things would work if Mom is hospitalized in a medical emergency?
Also, if you are not your parents’ POA, what role do they want you to play in the decision-making process? Are you a partner to be consulted or are you not to be informed at all? Have that conversation now.
2. If you are your parents’ POA, do you know their wishes— the choices they would make, the way they want to be treated and the thing that is most important to them in their recovery?
If you are unclear about your parents’ desires, consider using “The Five Wishes,” available atwww.agingwithdignity.org, as a way to begin this dialogue.
Do you and the hospital have a copy of your parents’ POAs and advance healthcare directives? Advance directives are legal documents that allow your parent to convey their decisions about end-of-life care ahead of time. The directives provide a way for your parents to communicate their wishes to family, friends and healthcare professionals.
Help your parents to ensure these documents are completed, up-to-date and available when needed. But most importantly, be sure you have a conversation with them about their choices.
3. Do your parents’ Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act forms include you as a listed party to be informed of their medical condition?
A HIPAA form is needed to release personal health information to someone other than the patient. Encourage your parents to list you on each of their community physician’s HIPAA forms so that you can talk with their doctors about your parents’ medical conditions and medications.
4. Do you know your parents’ medical history, family history, current medications and physician contact numbers? Many seniors’ families do not know about recently diagnosed conditions or medication changes.
For example, unless your mother is enrolled in an HMO, her doctors may not be conferring with one another on her medications, conditions, etc. So it’s important to be armed with the current information and relay it to everyone treating her.
Ask your parents to fill out a File of Life (available for free at Senior Concerns and your local Area Agencies on Aging). Make sure it stays updated and accessible. And keep a copy for yourself.
5. Have you called the insurance company? Do you even know who to call? It is important to let the insurance company know what is happening so that your parent does not end up owing more money than they should.
Part two of this series will cover the next five steps.