One Thing I Learned in Helping My Elderly Mother
by Sandra W. Larson, CFP ®
Throughout most of our lives, the most formidable figures tend to be our parents. They slay the dragons that haunt us in our early lives, guide us through young adulthood and commiserate with us as we raise our own children. As our parents age, we find they become more vulnerable and stand in need of someone to help them make decisions or defend them when they are in the hospital or in the midst of a complex situation.
As my dad was beginning to notice that he was having more difficulty thinking clearly about things, he said to me, “Sandra, you have access to all of my financial and investment accounts, please make certain that you review things and make sure I am not making mistakes.” Talk about a daunting task. Second guessing your Dad….
Well, over the last few years of his life, he became much more confused about what to do about things and we would talk through almost everything he did. As his dementia became a real factor in everyday life, he turned to me to discuss things with his doctors, defend his nurses from things he would send flying at them when he was upset, and he put me in a position to protect my mom after he passed.
He introduced me to acting as an Advocate for an elderly person. Don’t minimize what that means to the person you will act on behalf of. There are plenty of people in this world who don’t care how much someone may have contributed when they were younger and a force in the world. All they know is that these people are diminished, are in their way, and are more work or just a plain annoyance. By being an advocate for an elderly person, you make their life less stressful and add a layer of protection from predators.
As an advocate you may have a durable power of attorney or you may be the person who accompanies an elderly friend to meetings to help them remember. There are different levels of responsibility. Only accept the level of responsibility that makes sense for you. For me, I am full durable POA and healthcare proxy for my mother. That is the maximum level of responsibility. I have accompanied friends to doctors’ appointments to be emotional support and transportation. Most of my friends are older now and need that kind of support. That is a much lesser level of responsibility.
I have rarely been as abrupt with people as I have as an advocate for my mother. I attend every doctor appointment, attorney appointments, and most of her physical therapy appointments. I have visited her almost every day during her many hospital and rehabilitation facility stays. I meet her nurses and doctors. If there is anything that does not make sense, I discuss it with those providers. One time I was visiting her at a longer-term rehab facility and my mother said she had not been given her morning medicine. The nurse came in and, in very insulting tone, said that mom didn’t know what she was talking about. I was quite clear with her that my mom was absolutely in her right mind and that if she said she never got her meds… she didn’t. In researching the situation, the nurse realized that she was mistaken and apologized. My point in all of this is that if I hadn’t pressed the matter, my mom would have missed her medication that morning. Life threatening, perhaps not, but it could have been.
Most of us work or have many other responsibilities and cannot be there for people every day. There are services that are available to handle every level of need for the elderly. There are “visiting angels” that come into an elderly person’s home every day or periodically to help with minor housekeeping jobs, taking them shopping, etc. Many communities have “Meals on Wheels” that bring in food once a day to people who are unable to prepare food for themselves. Adult daycare facilities are available for elderly people who need of a safe place to be during the day. Group homes or assisted living facilities are places that provide a more protected living arrangement for elderly who might be at home alone all day or who might want some independence with extra help. There is palliative or hospice care for the more fragile or end of life situations. There are many services available to help the ADVOCATE create a better situation for their loved one. By being aware of the local offerings and orchestrating the best solution, you can create a better life with the proper level of support for your parent, spouse, or loved one. This is not a touch and go deal. Stay involved and monitor the providers just to make certain things continue to go well.
While most healthcare professionals and other professionals are diligent about doing their jobs, we all know that some people don’t have a great deal of empathy. As ADVOCATES we help bridge the gap in making certain the essential things are taken care of for our loved ones. It takes time and effort to help others. What we gain is a sense of satisfaction. We lose some of our time. Sometimes it takes study and travel to accomplish a task for them. What a great use of your time to ensure the one who kept you safe when you were incapable of fighting for yourself is made safer because you protect them.