Haims column: How to be a successful advocate
This is the second of two articles discussing advocating.
Many adult children may take it for granted that their parents and/or elder loved ones are currently living well and independently. However, it can come a quite a surprise and be rather shocking when the time comes that their plan is not working so well.
How each person and family deals with these circumstances is personal — but not unique. Some families may choose to bring elder loved ones into the adult child’s home or purchase/rent a nearby home. Other families may choose to have a sibling, or family member move into the parent’s/loved one’s home in effort to assist — and some families may consider having a home care agency assist while other families may consider options of assisted living.
For families that choose to have elders live within their home, nearby, or even move into the elders home, the role and complexities of becoming a caregiver and advocate often can be both physically and emotionally taxing.
If you are one of the nearly 30% of the U.S. population that is currently caring for an elderly loved one, you may be all too aware that the learning process can be daunting and sometimes like “drinking from a firehose.” If you are not already within this 30%, you soon might be and may want to choose a slower and more methodical process. I definitely recommend the one step at a time approach.
Below are some suggestions of how to begin and organize a plan to help an aging loved one:
• Develop a plan before a crisis presents itself.
• Include the loved one in the conversation, if possible.
• Define the needs of the parent/loved one: What do they want?
• Develop a plan to meet the needs of the loved one with the consult of family, friends and/or outside help. This includes establishing realistic expectations and consideration of time for all persons involved.
• If money could become a divisive and contentious issue, hire a financial adviser or elder law attorney (sooner the better)
• Encourage the communication of feelings.
• Convey appreciation and respect to everyone helping.
It is easy to feel lost in the system while trying to help a loved one navigate health and medical needs, financial constraints and socialization.
Within our mountain communities, resources are limited. Here are some resources available:
• Senior centers: Garfield County Senior Programs (970-328-8896). Pitkin County Senior Services (970-920-5432). If you need help outside of our community, most counties have a senior center.
• Area Agency on Aging: Locally, Erin Fisher (970-468-0295, ext. 107). Erin is a great resource within many of our mountain communities. In other areas, go to the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging website (www.n4a.org).
• AARP: http://www.aarp.org
• The Consumer Consortium on Assisted Living (CCAL): http://www.ccal.org
Your success in assisting your loved ones will greatly depend upon your ability to “gather the troops.” I know all too well that getting the time and attention needed from medical providers, nurses and therapists can be challenging. However, it is imperative that you are tenacious.
You will also find it of great importance to validate your loved one’s symptoms and find a method of collaboration and cooperation that fosters positive results instead of provoking stress and hard feelings.
Find medical providers who are sensitive to both your needs and the needs of your loved one. If the current medical provider is not responsive and does not collaborate with care after an office visit (continuum of care), find a more responsive provider. Providers should show a high level of concern.
There is no one way to successfully advocate. You can be, and will be, a successful advocate if you develop a way to:
• Identify knowledge gaps in what you already know
• Prepare for appointments ahead of time
• Take notes
• Find a sustainable solution
• Make sure everyone is on the same page
• Develop a “team” with all medical providers
• Inspire and encourage
• Overcome burnout
Advocating for a loved one provides many intangible rewards. It will provide you the opportunity to make a real difference in someone’s life. However, it requires good research, preparation and communication skills along with the ability to problem solve and locate resources.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Glenwood Springs, Basalt, Aspen and the surrounding areas. He is an advocate for our elderly and is available to answer questions. His contact information is, http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns, 970-328-5526.
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