When you find yourself in a position to be responsible for a senior in your family, the job can take on many definitions. You may find yourself to be a nurse and nurturer, health aide or house cleaner. Add money manager, scheduler and nurturer and the job becomes pretty full. The most important role, however, is more being than doing. That role is one of advocacy. In that role, you assure the best life possible for loved ones at a time when they are the most vulnerable. Your other job is to get others involved in the many things involved with daily life, not try to do everything yourself.
The role of advocate for elderly parents requires an understanding of the parents’ preferences and how they wish to live their lives and making sure those wishes are respected. The advocate also makes sure that financial and legal matters are monitored and kept up to date. The advocate assures appropriate care, personal services and medical treatments are monitored and timely.
Taking on the responsibilities of advocate may seem overwhelming, but it is likely it is no more challenging than becoming more aware of the bigger picture. Visiting and helping an older person is appreciated. Advocacy is a more acute responsibility and requires heightened skills such as those discussed below.
Being an advocate does not mean that you have to take on all the responsibility yourself. Think of yourself as the manager of a team. You will be responsible for the assignment of tasks and the paperwork involved with health, legal and financial matters, many other responsibilities can be assigned to others who care about the person being helped.
There are applications that can help you with this organization. AARP offers a list of several of these applications in this article. Further, the organization also offers a comprehensive caregiving plan that will give you many additional ideas and resources.
As this plan points out, it is a good idea to get a digital copy of key documents such as medication lists, living wills, medical history and powers of attorney so you can access them on the go from your phone or tablet.
As advocate, your chief role is to keep the best interests of the one for whom you are advocating at heart and to take that job seriously. To achieve this, you need to establish exactly what you want to accomplish and enroll in the support of encouraging people who will back you up. It can be frustrating fighting a fractionalized health care scheme that seems to have conflicting rules and systems. In the end you have to rely on your own positive mindset and remember your objectives.
Of all the responsibilities you have as an advocate, communication may be the most important. In your role, you will be the “switchboard” for communicating with your loved one, family members, lawyers, doctors, and others involved in supporting your efforts. It can be frustrating, but keeping your cool and being well prepared can keep you sane. Sometimes other well-meaning family members will disagree with you. Remember your mission. In other situations, you may not fully understand the legal or medical jargon. Before meetings with professionals and other providers, prepare notes and questions to communicate clearly and precisely.
People in regular contact with the patient may be so close to the situation that they do not see the small changes that, over time, can become significant issues. As an advocate who is responsible for the caregivers, you will be in a better position to observe more dispassionately. As you observe, look for changes in a person’s abilities, moods, overall health and safety needs. You should track changes over time and address the situation directly or with the various providers serving your loved one.
If you are not physically present, ask very specific questions of on-site caregivers or neighbors. Technology can also come into play with remote monitoring systems and video communication.
As an advocate it is your right and obligation to ask questions. Ask enough questions to be fully informed about your loved one’s health conditions, finances, and legal affairs. As you prepare for meetings with providers, have questions prepared. And, if those charged with serving your senior are not forthcoming or prepared, do not hesitate to locate others who can provide your answers. Advocates are persistent.