Growing up, we looked up to our parents thinking they would always be around to guide and protect us. Over time, we have had our own careers and families. Our parents have gotten older and suddenly we have become caregivers of elderly parents.
My dad had always been strong. He did all the hard labor and worked a full-time job. He was never nurturing but he always worked hard to give us a safe and comfortable life. Of course, beside every man, there is an amazing woman. Both my parents have been healthy their whole lives.
Last November, my dad was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. He started getting sick a few years before. It took a lot of testing and discussion with doctors to finally diagnose him. He has probably aged 15 years in the past five years from this illness. I help my mom care for him when I am able. Since his symptoms started, I have learned a lot about caring for an elderly parent.
When Symptoms Start, Never Give Up:
At first we thought it was just something minor when his symptoms started. My mom kept a bit of the details from us because she did not want us to worry. Living in a small town does not help either. We do not have the testing centers that most metropolitan areas have. Here are a few things I learned that will hopefully help others:
- Seek a second opinion. I. If you are concerned with one physician’s diagnosis, it is acceptable to be seen by a second physician.
- Ask questions until you get answers. Be the squeaky wheel, as my mom says. Also, make sure to write your questions down before each appointment so you don’t forget.
- Ask to see a specialist. Primary care physicians are wonderful, but specialists have a better understanding of specific areas of medicine.
- Trust your intuition. You know your parents better than anyone. Just like with your kids, if you feel like something is off, trust your intuition.
- Educate yourself. Research information from reliable websites. Some reputable websites include: American Heart Association, American Diabetic Association, Health in Aging Foundation, and American Cancer Society. These websites are reliable, backed by research, and used as resources by medical professionals.
Ask for Help:
Sometimes caring for an elderly parent can take its toll on our own health. It can be exhausting especially when we have other responsibilities. There are options that can provide assistance when caring for an elderly parent.
- Home Health Care: Home health agencies provide many healthcare services including nursing care, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, nutritional consults, wound care, and post-surgical care. The healthcare workers are hired and trained to provide care in patients’ homes. This is especially helpful for elderly and aging parents who are still living at home or with family.
- Senior Services: There are some companies who hire out sitters who will stay with an elderly client to give family a break. This was especially useful when my family was caring for my grandmother. It gave my parents’ peace of mind when they were working or taking care of other responsibilities. Some companies also offer errand services. These places will pick up groceries or prescriptions and take clients to doctor appointments.
- Assisted Living/Nursing Facility: Although we do not want to have to relocate our parents to someone else’s care, this is sometimes a necessity. These facilities range from apartment/assisted living condos, to full complete patient care. Nursing homes get a lot of bad publicity, but there are many facilities that have caring staff. Research local facilities with the best ratings and schedule a tour. It is difficult during the current COVID situation, but there is always a way to obtain information.
Reviewing medical bills can be very confusing and frustrating. The majority of insurance owners do not understand their medical bills and end up paying more than what is needed. All insurance companies are different and each have multiple plans. It is important to become educated about your parents’ medical insurance to avoid extra charges.
- Explanation of Benefits (EOB): Be sure to become familiar with your parents’ EOB when dealing with their medical bills. The explanation of benefits is mailed out to patients at the beginning of the insurance year. It helps patients to understand what is covered and not covered by their insurance plan.
- Insurance codes: Each diagnosis written by a physician has a specific code. It can become very confusing. Unless you go to school for medical coding, it seems like a different language. Look online for some resources that can assist you when reading your parents’ medical bills.
- Avoid Medical Billing Errors: Billing and coding errors are very common on medical bills. When you notice these errors, be sure to contact the billing department for the facility the bill was received. You may also have to contact your parents’ insurance company and physician to remedy the situation. My mom was on the phone with the insurance company and hospital billing every day for over a year. The codes were finally correct after over a year. Otherwise it would have cost my mom and dad several thousands of dollars.
Become a Medical Advocate
My dad suffered for many years with symptoms of MS before he received his diagnosis. He had several tests and images before we finally found out what was wrong. My dad is no longer that tough, hard worker that he used to be. He has aged so much from this disease. Now he uses a cane and sometimes a walker to get around. Sometimes he gets stuck and his brain can’t communicate with his arms and legs to function. His memory is poor, and he is always dizzy. I wish I would have pushed for a second opinion or referral to a specialist before he got worse. I just hope that others will be strong medical advocates when caring for their elderly parents.
It can be overwhelming when our parents get older and begin to need extra medical care. The best course of action is to get familiar with the medical world. Unfortunately, we must research and educate ourselves to understand and seek out the best medical care. When it comes to our parents and our kids, we must become medical advocates and push for the best care. When you feel uneasy about your parents’ medical care, it is acceptable to seek a second opinion. In this case, it’s best to trust your intuition. You know your parents best!
Melissa Sikes is a registered nurse with 17 years of healthcare experience. She also works part time as a freelance writer. She hopes to inspire others to live life to the fullest and challenge themselves to achieve their goals.