Coping with the Stresses of Elder Care: Doctor visits and You

In my previous post on Elder Care issues, which I called Speaking Up For Yourself, I set out some tips for those caring for an aging parent, on how to start speaking up for what you need and what you want.  For me, as my mother aged with dementia, speaking up was an essential skill for regaining some control over my universe. I often think back to that time (my mother passed away a year and a half ago), on what I could have done differently or better.  Here are some things related to speaking up that I found invaluable.

Medical Matters, including doctor visits, ER and other hospitalizations
It's important for someone to accompany an elderly person to doctor appointments. It's even more important for that person to be prepared to go into details with the doctor.  And it's most important to write everything down. 

Medical matters with regard to elderly parents are always complicated, even without the stress of seeing your mother or father  strained, in pain, confused. Typically there are multiple issues to consider, various treatment options, a variety of drugs influencing each other. Physicians have less and less time, and sometimes too little patience, with geriatric cases. I've found this can be true even with doctors who claim a specialty in geriatrics. 

It seems obvious now as I write it, but at the time, when my sister or I were just starting to grapple with my mother's dementia, sitting with her in the exam room was a non-starter.  She refused to allow us in, on pain of her stalking out of the doctor's office.  And once we overcame that hurdle, it took several instances of scratching our heads trying to remember what we'd been told before it dawned on us that we could take notes, just like in highschool!  Live and learn!!

Eventually, I began reminding myself of the following advice, which put my (and my mother's) needs front and center, rather than just hoping the doctor would be helpful.
What do I want? to understand the medical matter confronting my mother.
What do I need? for the doctor(s) to explain the matter to me clearly and completely.
How do I get this? I practiced a little script until I could say it  nonjudgmentally. For example:
"Doctor, I'm my mother's principle caregiver. And so I have to be able to make the right decisions for her.  For me, that means understanding probably in a bit more detail than most what medical issues we're dealing with. Do you have a few more minutes right now?  Because it'd help me tremendously if you'd explain the situation and our options so I could take notes.  And please bear with me if I need to ask some questions. If this isn't a good time, can we set a time right now when we can talk about this?"

Family matters--time for yourself
One of the recurring themes in caring for elderly parents is how it encroaches on your time and energy for other things. You're working, you're raising a family, you're keeping your spouse happy, AND you're now responsible for all sorts of things related to your parent's well-being. If you don't speak up for your needs you'll eventually explode and one of the above, which you care deeply about, will suffer.

Here's how I break this down into the fundamentals:
What do I want? Not to be responsible to anyone for anything for a period of time (a night, a few hours, whatever you can carve out of your over-busy life!)
What do I need? For someone reliable to take over my responsibilities for that particular period of time. This could be a sibling, a spouse, a friend.
How do I get this? Try this out: "Honey, you, our family, my parents... well, you're the most important people in the world to me.  My work, too.  Right now, though, I'm truly exhausted. I've gotten overwhelmed.  And I need a break. Could you (take care of the kids for the next few nights) (manage dinner for me this week) (take over the laundry this weekend)? If I just don't have to think about or be responsible for this it'll help me more than you can imagine!"

Ok, ok, maybe you won't call your partner "honey" but you get the idea! Define what you want, figure out what you need to do to make it happen, make up your little speech and practice it so you feel totally at ease speaking up for yourself. And then do it! 

To read more on the subject of Elder Car, click here.



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