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caring for aging parents

Caring For Aging Parents: 5 Conversations You Should Have Now

If you’re reading this, you’re either preparing or already caring for aging parents. You’re not alone. More Americans are stepping up to provide unpaid care for family. 1 in 6 Americans care for a family member 50 years or older, and 1 in 4 people care for two or more people.

I’m the youngest in my family of four, with parents in or near their 80s. So, I understand. My caregiving amounts to tech support, but one day, that will change. It’s better to have these healthcare conversations when they’re unnecessary so that wishes can be clarified. Here are five health conversations you shouldn’t delay with your aging parents.

1. Do they have advanced health-care directives? And if so, where are they kept?

Advanced healthcare directives provide written instructions on the amount of life-sustaining measures that should be taken. For example, how do your elderly parents feel about being kept alive with a ventilator, feeding tubes, or other life-sustaining measures? And under what circumstances would they want that? It’s also critical that adults and aging parents agree and understand these terms.

It can be challenging to bring this topic up, so you could frame it like this. “If you were ever seriously injured or required life support, it would be difficult for me to make those decisions. And it would be so emotional that I don’t know if I would be in my best mind. We’ve spoken about what you’d want, but putting it in writing would make it clear should anything happen.”

If an advanced healthcare directive has been created, you must know where it’s kept. And whether these wishes have been shared with family, doctors, and clergy. If an advanced healthcare directive has not been made, you may want to consult a lawyer or your healthcare provider.

2. Have they named a health proxy?

A health proxy is appointed to make health-related decisions if your parents cannot do so. This can include making decisions about the Medicare insurance plan and benefits. This could also be the person who makes decisions based on your parent’s advanced healthcare directives.

Agent tip:

“If you want to help your parents make Medicare plan decisions or review their plan during the Annual Enrollment Period, you should become their healthcare proxy.“

Should your parents be unable to make healthcare decisions, their Medicare plan could be impacted. This is essential to their healthcare because it affects their health and financial well-being. The wrong Medicare plan could mean they don’t get the necessary benefits, overpay for their medications, or have high out-of-pocket costs.

At Connie Health, many caregivers call in to speak about plans for their parents who are not health proxies. Unfortunately, we cannot help these caregivers because they lack this critical role. Suppose your parents want help making Medicare plan decisions or want someone else to complete their annual Medicare plan review during the Annual Enrollment Period (October 15 – December 7). In that case, they should assign a health proxy today.

We know caring for your aging parents is a lot. That’s why Connie Health is here to help. We created a checklist to make it easier for you to review your parent’s Medicare plan during the Annual Enrollment Period. Download the Caregiver’s Checklist to prepare.

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3. Have they provided someone with a HIPPA release?

A HIPPA authorization form, also known as a HIPPA release form, is a document that allows the health proxy or another person to access your parent’s medical records. If your parents sign this form and designate a person, their protected health information (PHI) can be shared for treatment, payment, and healthcare operations.

The form includes what specific information is to be shared, who the information can be disclosed to, an expiration date or event, and the signature of your parents or their legal representative.

Having HIPPA release can be especially useful regarding Medicare insurance claims. Providing the HIPPA release to the same person who is the health proxy could be beneficial.

4. Do they have a plan for long-term care?

Your parents may wish to age-in-place or live out their final days at home. However, some conditions, such as cognitive impairment, memory loss, or help with activities of daily living (ADLs) and instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs), may require more consistent care. ADLs include walking, feeding, grooming, dressing, toileting, bathing, and transferring. IADLs include managing transportation, finances, shopping, home maintenance, and meal preparation.

This could mean that a family caregiver steps in to help your older parents, or they receive home care. Or it may require moving to a senior living community, assisted living facility, or nursing home – depending on the amount of needed senior care.

While challenging, these are essential conversions to have before the time comes. Knowing how your parents can afford long-term care is critical since Original Medicare or Medicare Advantage does not provide these. Nursing homes and assisted living could be paid for through long-term insurance plans, personal funds, or Medicaid should they qualify.

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  • Compare all major plans and carriers
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5. Assess your parent’s well-being.

Our last on the list is less about a conversation but more about observation.

As you gather for family birthdays, the holidays, or other events, this is your opportunity to assess your parent’s well-being. While you’re visiting, check their home and observe the following:

  • The state of your aging parent’s home. If you notice garbage piling up, spoiled food in the fridge, or piles of dirty laundry, these might be signs that your parents may need help caring for themselves.
  • Their physical frailty. If they begin having difficulty going up and down stairs, appear unbalanced, tend to sit for long periods, or have a significant change in their weight, those could be signs of concern. You may want to seek a doctor’s attention, modify the home, get more help, or move to a more accessible living situation.
  • Cognitive decline. We all forget things now and then. Or you can’t quite remember that word, right? But if you see your parent experiencing frequent confusion, getting lost in familiar places, difficulty reading or following a conversation, misspending money, or leaving mail unopened or bills unpaid, you may want to have them checked for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Behavioral changes. If your parent is acting unusually, that could be a warning sign, especially if they are quick to anger or are more down than usual. Many early signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are linked to behavioral changes rather than steep cognitive decline. However, it’s equally important to assess your parent’s mood to ensure they are not depressed or feeling isolated.

If, when assessing your parent’s well-being, you observe any of the above, it’s time to note the changes, make modifications to their home, and share your concerns with trusted family, friends, neighbors, or support groups who can provide help. It would also be an excellent time to inquire into your parent’s latest doctor’s appointment and alert a healthcare professional to these changes.

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