A major role that many family caregivers will take on in eldercare is medical decision making, or at a minimum, guidance, coordination and advice on such decisions in coordination with an elder loved one.
The path of elder care is different for everyone, but often evolves and expands over time. You may start to help an elderly parent with certain tasks or be asked to attend a doctor’s appointment or surgery consultation, or you may find yourself stepping in during a crisis. Typically, over time, caregivers become more involved in the healthcare advocacy and medical decision making for a loved one. If a loved one becomes incapacitated, this role may be handled solely by the family caregiver.
Making vital healthcare decisions can be extraordinarily stressful. We all hear the stories in the news of families torn apart by such decisions. Of course, every day families work together to make these decisions, both big and small. Regardless, the decisions are a serious matter and one of the most stressful aspects of caregiving for many family members.
What steps can help make the healthcare decisions process smoother?
- Ensure your loved one has completed the necessary legal documents for advance care planning and decision making. Such documents include: a healthcare power of attorney/healthcare surrogate, a living will, and a durable power of attorney. Depending on your state and situations, the specific documents needed may vary and the language can be tailored. Estate planning documents should also be included in this discussion, such as a will and/or trust.
- Understand the documents and ask questions. This is a case where it should not all seem like a bunch of indecipherable “legalese” to you. You need to understand how the documents work and clarify with questions if you are not sure. You may need to refer back to your attorney to consult at the time the documents are used as well. Family members sometimes run in to questions or problems when attempting to use the documents, so seek advice if need be.
- Review and update documents periodically. If you have a major life change or wish to make a document change, don’t wait to contact your attorney to make the changes. Additionally, it is a good idea to review the documents periodically. In Florida, a new Durable Power of Attorney statute was passed that took effect October 1, 2011. While older documents that were valid remain so, we recommend individuals talk to their attorney about updating to the new standards if possible.
- Get the information you feel you need from your medical providers to make an adequately informed decision. Express your concerns and ask to consult further if you do not feel you have enough information. Prepare questions ahead of time and take notes or work with a patient advocate to help you through the process.
An independent patient advocate can be a valuable resource as you go through the process of making various healthcare decisions on behalf of a loved one. Here are just a few ways that a patient advocate can help you navigate elder care issues and decision-making:
- Assisting you in locating specialists and information on the particular disease or medical situation; helping you to set up appointments and locate resources.
- Helping you prepare for appointments (or attending on your behalf) to ensure you get answers to your questions and have the information needed to make the most informed healthcare decision.
- Talking through the decision and helping you process the information you have received. These decisions can be very emotional and a third party can help you talk through your thoughts and concerns. The patient advocate also helps you to feel you have the information and time needed to process the decision. This may involve serving as a liaison with providers and determining what additional information is needed to make a decision.
- Care planning and coordination for your loved one. Helping coordinate between providers and family members–keeping “everyone on the same page” as much as possible with the goal of ensuring quality care for your loved one.
- Mediating family discussions and serving as a neutral sounding board between family members who may be in disagreement.
Need help with this elder care issue? Want to talk to someone about how to be better prepared for navigating elder care and helping to make medical decisions for a loved one? Have a family crisis going on, family in disagreement?
Give us a call any time at 727-447-5845!