The time to prepare to help older relatives with healthcare is well before they need help

January 24, 2024 in Family Caregiving
helping older relatives with healthcare

For most Americans, caregiving for an older loved one will be part of their future. Whether you’re helping aging parents, an older spouse or partner, siblings, or other loved ones, it’s wise to make preparations long before a healthcare crisis thrusts you into the role of caregiver. The goal is to be well positioned to not only provide the needed support, but also to ensure that you’re aware of your loved one’s wishes and have the right documentation to make sure those wishes are respected.

Start planning now

Advanced care planning can guide your older loved ones and you as they make decisions about the types of medical interventions they do and do not want if they are not able to make healthcare decisions or are faced with a terminal illness. While 90% of people say addressing these issues is important, only 27% have done so according to survey data gathered by the Conversation Project.

Talking about a future where a family member or friend needs a caregiver can be a difficult conversation for many people but waiting until the person needs care will leave you rushing to connect with resources and figure out how best to meet their needs.

The better plan is to start talking about their preferences, concerns, and wishes well before they face a serious illness, physical limitations, or cognitive issues like dementia or Parkinson’s disease. One way to broach the subject and engage your loved ones is to make this a two-way conversation—you outline what you’d like to happen if you were seriously ill or injured, then ask them what plans they would want to have in place if they needed care or needed to make end of life decisions. This will be an ongoing conversation as they think about what they want and as their needs change over time, so plan on revisiting it at least once a year or when they receive a new diagnosis.

Some of the key topics you should discuss include:

  • Who they would like to make medical decisions for them if they can no longer do it themselves (their healthcare proxy)
  • Whether they have a living will or medical power of attorney and where it is kept. The healthcare proxy, their primary care provider, and their primary caregiver should all ideally have a copy.
  • The names and contact numbers for their physicians and other healthcare providers
  • Their wishes concerning end-of-life issues like resuscitation and life support
  • A list of all the medications they take and the names and contact numbers of the prescribing physicians
  • Whether they have a comprehensive medical record and how can it be accessed

The documents you’ll need to make medical decisions

There are six documents needed to make medical decisions and handle insurance and billing issues on someone else’s behalf, some of which have been mentioned above.

  • HIPAA authorization: This allows healthcare providers to share information with you. HIPAA authorizations can be customized, allowing your loved ones to decide if there are some types of medical information they prefer not to share with you.
  • Advance directive: An advance directive, or living will, details what specific types of medical care the person does and does not want if they are dying or not expected to regain consciousness. It also outlines the circumstances when these decisions should be applied.
  • Durable power of attorney for healthcare: This document lists who is able to make medical decisions on their behalf (the healthcare proxy).
  • Durable power of attorney: This allows you to make financial decisions on your loved ones’ behalf, pay bills, and access financial information, including talking with insurance providers and hospital and healthcare provider’s billing departments.
  • Do not resuscitate and/or do not intubate order, if desired: Even though this information is often included in an advance directive, if your loved one does not want to be resuscitated if their heart stops or put on a ventilator, it can be helpful to have a separate order that is shared with physicians, EMTs, hospital and other healthcare facility staff, and staff at their senior living or rehabilitation facility.
  • Letter of instruction: While not required when making medical decisions on your loved one’s behalf, this document details your family member’s end of life wishes. The information can include wishes surrounding funeral and memorial service arrangements, burial or cremation plans, and organ and tissue donation.

While this can all feel overwhelming, a PinnacleCare Health Advisor can help guide you and your loved ones through the process, as well as provide support for their healthcare needs. For example, we can:

  • Act as the liaison between your loved one and their team of physicians to help better understand their current and projected needs as they relate to their health decisions
  • Help you understand the options available for support services such as caregiving, private duty nursing, therapies, and medical equipment—all to keep them safe and as independent as possible
  • Recommend and provide referrals for local resources for more specific assistance and care

Connect with our team of experts to learn how we can support you and your loved ones.