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How to Be a Health Advocate for Your Parents

​Navigating the healthcare system can be challenging regardless of age and is only further complicated when caring for a parent or other relative.  Preparing for all medical appointments, even routine appointments and exams, is important.  Use the tips below to become a strong health advocate for your loved ones.  ​

  1. Designate a Point of Contact: Designate one family member to serve as the point of contact with your loved one’s healthcare providers and communicate with the rest of the family.  Not only will healthcare professionals appreciate coordinating care with only one family member, but it will also ensure that everyone has the same information.

  2. Observe: The slightest shift in our loved ones’ abilities, health, moods, safety needs, or desires may indicate a more significant medical or mental health issue. Catching those changes early and communicating them to the doctor can make all the difference in alleviating the problem.

  3. Stay on Top of Medical Recordkeeping: Take the time to gather and organize all of your parent’s medical information, including a history of conditions, treatments, medications, insurance documentation, and contact information for any healthcare providers you might need to reach out to. 

  4. Keep an Updated List of Medications: Your loved one may have multiple prescriptions from different doctors, and their medicines may be adjusted or changed occasionally. Keep a list of the current drugs they are taking and the time each day they take them. Make sure to bring this list to medical appointments and share it with the doctor to identify potential reactions and side effects. 

  5. Obtain a Health Care Directive: As they age, your parents may be unable to communicate their treatment preferences if they become ill.  An advance health care directive documents their wishes and gives someone the authority to speak on their behalf.

  6. Write Out a List of Concerns & Questions: Plan your questions before an appointment to avoid forgetting something. You want to make your time with the doctor count. Write down particular areas of concern, so you are prepared e recent falls, weight loss, or hearing difficulties.

  7. Attend Appointments: Many aging adults become overwhelmed when speaking with healthcare professionals. They often do not understand the different “lingo” concerning diagnoses or treatments and may not ask questions.  If you cannot attend in person, ask whether you can be present by phone or speak with the provider beforehand. 

  8. Make a Plan: Take notes at the appointment or have a family member or friend attend to do this. Ask your provider if they will provide notes and follow-up recommendations. 

  9. Tenacity: Facing a fragmented and frustrating healthcare system and trying to do more with less money can be discouraging. Keep asking questions until you are satisfied with the response. 

  10. Consider Second Opinions: Before agreeing to any significant procedure or treatment, asking for a second opinion is reasonable. You may want to do the same if you think the doctor is not adequately addressing your concerns.

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