Take a lead role in ensuring their best care
As a caregiver, the time will come when you have to act on your parent's behalf to ensure he or she receives the best care possible. As an advocate, you may screen, hire and oversee an in-home caregiver or help make important decisions about moving your parent to a retirement community. You may accompany your loved one to doctor's appointments. You'll advocate for many things, always with the parent's well-being in mind.
"When we enter life's elder chapters, our faculties and abilities slow down," says Marty Fogarty, an estate planning and elder law attorney based in Glenview, Illinois. "Many senior adults don't look at their well-being the way they did 10 years ago. That's when they need to pass the baton."
When your loved one turns over the reins, here are a few ways you can be their best advocate.
Have a sit-down
Know your parent's wants and needs before you have to intervene. Your info-gathering session should include (but isn't limited to):
- A list of current prescriptions and chronic illnesses
- Medicare/Medicaid paperwork
- Contact information for medical providers
- Checking account and other pertinent banking information
- A safety check. Is Mom steady on her feet? Does she wear an emergency alert pendant? Does her home have working smoke detectors?
Conversations about a loved one's financial, physical and personal health aren't easy. To help Mom feel less defensive, Fogarty suggests taking a "Plan B" approach. Say, for example, "I know you're doing fine, but I would feel better if we had a Plan B." If she agrees, ask Mom how she would want her affairs handled if she couldn't handle them herself.
Get Power of Attorney
You'll need medical power of attorney (POA) to make medical decisions on your loved one's behalf. You'll need it to enroll Dad in a Medicare plan or file an appeal. You'll also need medical POA to talk openly with Dad's doctors.
Financial POA allows you to pay your parent's bills, manage investments, deposit checks and handle other financial tasks. When your parent designates power of attorney, he decides how much authority you, as the agent, have over his medical care and/or finances.
Make sure your parent designates POA before it's necessary. "As soon as you notice a memory or ability issue, it's time to make sure these and other estate-planning documents are up to date," Fogarty says.
Talk with physicians
With medical POA, you can accompany your parent to doctor's appointments and discuss care with physicians. Ask them as many questions as you need to get the full scope of a diagnosis and treatment. If you can't physically attend appointments, follow up with a phone call or email.
Your parent likely has some combination of Medicare Part A, B, D or Medicare Advantage. Many older adults also have supplemental insurance, called Medigap.
Before the annual enrollment period, use Medicare.gov's Plan Finder to compare prescription drug plans, Medicare Advantage Plans and Medigap plans to determine if your parent is getting the best coverage at the best price. It takes time, but the result could lead to big annual savings.
Also, review your parent's bills and Medicare summary notices for coding errors and/or unexpected charges. You can clear up most discrepancies with a phone call.
Consider outside support
Health care social workers liaise with parents and caregivers to address concerns and generally ensure the entire family's well-being. Your Area Agency on Aging may also connect you to valuable resources.
As an advocate, you have your parents' best interests at heart. Keep a watchful eye on your loved one's care and if something seems amiss, speak up and keep advocating.