'Tis the season, unfortunately. I know that the holidays are a busy time for me! Often, parents do not want to worry their children so the first sign of trouble tends to come up during holiday visits. The first thing to do is an assessment - almost like medical triage. Do either of them need immediate medical help? If so, then visit their primary physician if possible or the emergency room or urgent care facility if it is a holiday or weekend. If hospitalization is not necessary, continue with the assessment. Continue with health issues, and try to gather as much information as possible, including names and phone numbers of physicians, dates of treatment, types and dosages of medicines prescribed. Get your parents to sign a release for each doctor so you can talk directly to the staff and get medical records. Gather all insurance information. If they are underinsured, call for an appointment to a SHIP counselor, which is free Medicare counseling, to see what their options might be. Make sure you have the ability to assist them, by getting a durable power of attorney executed for each of them and if appropriate, a health care power of attorney and living will. Find out as much financial information you can, including bank accounts, types and amounts of insurance, debts owed, sources and amounts of income, location of assets, etc. Find out if their bills are current. It is not unusual for people who are suffering from adverse health consequences to forget to pay utility bills, even if they have plenty of money in the bank.
Next, have a family conference. Lay out the information you have gathered and request ideas and assistance. Make all family members equally responsible by assigning duties if necessary. This is a crucial part of the care, as hard feelings may drive family members away. Finally, meet with an elder care attorney to go over potential care plans and financial plans. Call your Area Agency on Aging to find the best attorney to assist you and your family at 1-800-677-1116.