Caring for Your Aging Parents? Are You Prepared? I Sure Wasn’t!

Sooner or later we all get that terrifying call in the middle of the night. One of our parents is in the ER, waiting to be admitted with a life threatening situation.

Hearts beating rapidly we rush to the hospital, pumped with adrenaline, ready to dive in and help. The admitting doctors want to know our parent’s medical history, what medications they’re taking, and if the situation is dire enough, who’s named as their healthcare proxy. Most of us don’t have a clue. Half of us have such limited information about our parent’s medical history that we can’t even name one pill they are taking.

I thought I was prepared for every eventuality. My father was one of the most organized people on the planet, and I’m pretty anal too. For years, leading up to his first hospitalization, we'd gone through his file cabinet in the dining room filled with neatly labeled, color coded, insurance policies, bank and brokerage accounts, his Last Will and Testament, the deed for our house and tax bills. He’d even taken me to his bank vault, put my name on the account and given me a key. I was prepared for anything! Or so I thought…

But there I was in the ER, with my father in a coma, and I was totally unable to answer the doctor’s most basic medical questions. I was clueless and terrified.  

My father had never talked to me about the medications he was taking, and I’d never thought to ask. Plus, he’d never bothered to mention the fact that he had diabetes…and I certainly couldn’t have guessed it from his diet. 

Now he was helpless, lying on a gurney in an ER, struggling to breath. We’d never talked about Health Care Advance Directives or discussed how he wanted to be cared for if he couldn’t make medical or financial decisions for himself. Did he want extreme measures taken or not? What kind of extreme measures? Did he have a DNR, or a Code Status? What was a DNR anyway? These had been unthinkable questions for us to explore. It was too depressing to anticipate my father ever being so weak he would need me or anyone else to take charge. He was never going to get so sick that he’d be unable to talk to his own doctors. Not my dad!

That night in the ER was just the beginning of a long downward spiral. Unfortunately, we are all going to face becoming responsible for our aging parents sooner or later. None of us want to think about it in advance. It’s very difficult to begin these emotionally laden conversations with our parents. Most of us have our heads stuck in the sand.

But please, take it from me, don't wait for a crisis. Now is the best time to begin mapping out and mastering the basics of eldercare. We all need a roadmap for the journey. Talk to your parents while you still can, and take the first step towards organizing their Essential Documents with them, before that middle of the night trip to the emergency room.

Join the Conversation

Have your parents shared their medical, legal, insurance and financial information with you? What wisdom and tips can you share with our community?