Aging is challenging all on its own, but it’s that much more complicated when a serious illness is added to the mix. As the adult child and main caregiver of an elderly parent who is facing a serious medical diagnosis such cancer, dementia, heart failure, etc., knowing what to expect is key to keeping your own day to day life running as smoothly as possible.
Here are 6 tips for managing life when your aging parent is diagnosed with a complicated illness or disease:
- Create a shareable online informational hub for family and other caregivers
Google documents and associated spreadsheets, calendars, etc. make sharing Mom’s list of medicines (and updated changes), doctors’ names and appointments, meal delivery, etc. a breeze.
- Write it down
Make a habit of note-taking. Whether it’s a list of questions for the doctor, or what he or she said at Dad’s last visit, a written record is much better than trusting anyone’s memory. Keep a small pad of paper and a pen in your bag at all times, or make use of the note-taking abilities of your smartphone or tablet.
- File the paperwork
If you don’t live in the same state as your folks (and even if you do), make sure the doctor has a signed release from the parent/patient in treatment stating that the office is allowed to share medical information with you.
- Have the difficult discussions
Now more than ever, you need to know how your mom and dad feel about undergoing extraordinary medical efforts at prolonged life. Make sure that your parent’s doctor is on the same page as well.
- Have the practical (but still difficult) discussions
Where do your parents keep their important papers? Is their will up to date? (Is there a will?) Do you know if your parents each own a burial plot? No one enjoys thinking about the post-death details of losing a loved one, but knowing how to handle what’s ahead will be easier than not knowing—especially during a time of grief.
- Be prepared for exaggerated behavior
Stress and upset typically bring out the worst in all of us, so be prepared for your tactless aunt to be as forthright as ever, for the brother who continuously lets you down to remain steadfastly unavailable—and perhaps more so. Sure, one can always hope for the best, but high-stress times may not be the most realistic time to look for change in others.
Illness is stressful on everyone in the family and adds even greater complexity to the job of caregiving. Don’t go it alone. Please reach out to me for assistance in navigating the difficult terrain ahead.
All the best,
Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.