Pella Chronicle

May 3, 2013

How to prepare for the transition from child to decision-maker

Nancy Hamilton
Hearthstone, a Ministry of WesleyLife

Pella —

The commandment “Honor thy father and thy mother” often comes to mind when dealing with aging parents.
Most children with aging parents strive to follow that commandment but find it challenging to know the best way to help parents retain their dignity and maintain as much independence as possible. For many, this can be our first experience in transitioning from child to decision maker. 
Although your parents may be fully capable of caring for themselves, as they age you may realize they occasionally need support to accomplish tasks they used to  handle alone. They may begin to need increased assistance  even though they continue to live independently in their own homes. 
If you live near your parents, you may be able to support them with a variety of routines such as:
-Sorting medications to make it easier for them to take them as prescribed
-Shopping for food and personal items
-House cleaning
-Doing laundry
-Paying bills and managing finances
If your parents seem unable to handle these types of tasks, it might be time for them to move in with a primary caregiver (usually a family member) or consider outside assistance, such as home care services. 
Another important component that is often overlooked is social interaction. Do your parents talk to others during the day? We often focus too much on the physical components of aging and forget that human relationships, conversation and interaction are good for the soul! 
Other housing options include moving into assisted living,  a supervised community for older adults, or even into full-time residency in a skilled-nursing community. 
When choosing a community for your parents, it’s important to involve them in the conversation and selection process as much as possible. The ability to make even small choices reassures parents that they still have control over their lives.
You’ll also want to be sure the community you select provides person-directed care designed to promote the health, independence and dignity of all residents. Residents of such communities usually benefit from being part of a close-knit group of people and from having the opportunity to make decisions about their daily routines.  These communities value having family engagement and participation. 
What You Should Know About Your Parents
The more information you have about your parents, the better you will be able to assist them, especially if something unexpected happens. Here are some tips on what information to gather now before you are faced with an unplanned event:
-Birth dates, social security number, and insurance information. Medical records and insurance information often are catalogued according to birth date and social security number. Knowing this information may help improve communication. It’s also helpful to know the name and phone number of your parents’ health insurance provider, as well as their policy numbers.
-Medical conditions and allergies. Your parents are likely to get better coordinated medical care if you can provide information about their medical conditions such as heart disease or diabetes, along with past surgeries and major medical procedures such as implantation of a pacemaker. Having a list of known allergies also may prove valuable during an emergency, especially if a parent is allergic to specific medications such as codeine or penicillin.
-Medications and supplements. This information is essential when weighing treatment options during an emergency. Blood thinners, for example, could lead to heavy bleeding. Plus, certain vitamins or herbal supplements could interact with medications given in an emergency situation.
-Your parents’ doctors. Make a list of all your parents’ physicians, including names and contact information. The doctors who best know your parents can likely provide specific details about their heath histories, medications and important facts.
-A signed release to obtain information about medical care. Before you need it, ask your parents to sign a release form that allows doctors and others to speak with you about your parents’ medical care. It is best to clarify upfront the type and amount of information your parents are comfortable having you receive from health care providers, insurance companies and others.
-Advance directives. These address whether to use life-saving measures, resuscitation or machines should their heart stop beating. Understanding your parents’ advance directives can help you make critical decisions if your parents are unable to, and gives you  peace of mind in knowing that what you decide is a reflection of your parents’ wishes. If your parents already have advance directives, obtain a copy.. If they have not completed advance directives, help them to do so by contacting their attorney or medical provider.
-Your parents’ lifestyle. Medical treatment may vary, based on lifestyle, so it’s important to know whether your parents drink alcohol or use tobacco. Other lifestyle information also can be vital, such as whether your parents are eating balanced diets and what physical activities they engage in. Understanding your parents’ religious beliefs is important as well, especially when they could influence treatment decisions.
You want to make sure your parents never feel they are a burden to you. Let them know that you appreciate all they did for you while you were growing up and that you are grateful for the opportunity to support them  in return. 
It’s important to tell your parents how  much you enjoy spending time with them and include them in your family’s activities. Being a valued member of the family and having significant relationships with children and grandchildren will lift their spirits.  Always remember the value of living each day and cherish each moment you have together.  We honor our fathers and mothers by knowing them as individuals, offering support when needed and advocating for their independence as they age.