Caring for the aging population

The elderly are people too. They have a lifetime of experiences and wisdom to share and deserve our respect and dignity.

I come from a large family and because we are actively involved in my 92-year-old mother’s life, one of us often accompanies her to doctor appointments, restaurants and ball games (she is an avid U of L Cardinals fan). Although she sometimes needs help, Mom manages her own calendar, appointments and health.

Still, in spite of her obvious intelligence and interest in directing her life, when I accompany her in public, people sometimes talk to me instead of her. This makes her feel invisible. I have witnessed this not only during social activities such as ordering at a restaurant, but often at her health care provider’s office or while she’s in the hospital.

The elderly are people too. They have a lifetime of experiences and wisdom to share and deserve our respect and dignity.

If you are in a similar situation, you likely become frustrated with the lack of respect that is sometimes shown to your aging parents, especially when others talk only to you and ask questions as if your parent is not in the room. Here are four ways to ease the frustration of such situations and help your parents continue to feel like the independent adults they are:

  • Remind health care workers and providers that your parent is the patient, not you. Your parent is most familiar with his or her current health, history, medications and reason for the appointment. You are merely the mode of transportation and sounding board.
  • Encourage your parents to continue to speak up for themselves. Allow them to ask and answer questions on their own. Unless they ask for help, do not ask or answer for them.
  • If your parent has hearing loss, as many older adults do, kindly remind the nurse, physician or other health care worker to speak clearly and loudly while looking directly at your parent. Many older patients have a hard time hearing someone who stands behind them or is looking elsewhere when speaking.
  • If you encounter a repeated communication error in your parent’s health care provider, ask to speak to the practice manager or nurse manager. Likely the situation will be quickly resolved.

Finally, it is important to create a plan with your family to communicate your elderly parents’ health information. My family communicates via group text messages. All six of mom’s children like to be informed, particularly when there are health issues. With our communication plan in place, we know that whoever is with her can provide information to the others. Everyone stays informed, and we can funnel questions through one source instead of six.

The biggest lesson: Every day is a gift. Mom is healthy and happy at 92. Most people celebrate her passion for living and support her choices. (Her fellow Cardinals fans lend a hand in helping her reach her seat.) That’s a gift too.


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