Imagine yourself in this situation: you get a phone call from your aging parent, sounding serious. You’re hundreds of miles away. It’s a medical matter.
We recently found ourselves on the receiving end of this. “It’s Mom. I can’t swallow, and this has been going on all day. I went to Urgent Care and they sent me to the emergency room at the hospital.” There’s no way we can get there fast, even if we want to. No one knows if this is anything really bad or if it can be fixed quickly. What to do?
My husband, Mikol was feeling terrible that he couldn’t just rush down to be with Mom. After all, she’s 92 and lives alone. That helpless feeling again. If you live at a distance from your aging loved ones, this could happen to you.
But with our expertise in this whole aging subject at AgingParents.com, we had prepared for this possibility. Over her protests, and after the last scary episode some time ago, we had hired a geriatric care manager. No, my mother in law, Alice doesn’t need frequent watching over, a point she berated us about. She’s quite independent. And she refused to accept that she was going to have to pay someone by the hour to do an assessment on her and have a file of her personal medical history. “I’m fine, I don’t need it” she protested vehemently. She wouldn’t even let the care manager see her until we agreed to pay for it. But she relented and met the competent nurse-care manager we had located for her. Care manager Diane was kind, friendly and available. She got the basic information, and hadn’t had to do anything since except to update her file by seeing Alice once more, many months before this incident. She knew Alice and was informed about her medical history. That was what counted.
But now we needed her and fast. Luckily, she was available when we called. She rushed over to the E.R. and met Alice there. She stayed with her and stayed in touch with us via text through the tests and examinations done on Alice. She told us what was going on each step of the way. It was a godsend. Fortunately the doctors found the problem and fixed it. Alice was released but was told not to drive herself home, due to medication she had taken in E.R. Diane drove Alice home in Alice’s car and then took a cab back to her own vehicle after Alice was safely home again.
The takeaway here is that you do not have to be left in the lurch if you have an aging parent at a distance and no family nearby. Sometimes there is a friendly neighbor who can help you if you get the kind of phone call we did. Or you could get a call from the hospital saying your aging parent is admitted there. But if neighbors can’t be counted on, a geriatric care manager can really ease your mind. Here are some pointers that are for the proactive thinker, the adult child who wants to be prepared.
1. Get the contact info for neighbors and friends of your aging parents and keep it in your phone or an easily accessible place. You may not have time to go searching when an emergency happens. Meet the neighbors and let them know you appreciate the contact they have with your aging loved ones.
2. Consider hiring a care manager to at least size up your aging loved one’s situation, keep notes on their medical history and be a resource for you if you can’t get there quickly in a crisis. Maybe you don’t even need to be there personally, but you don’t want your aging parent to be at a hospital all alone.
Care managers generally charge for an initial assessment of the elder, sometimes a flat fee. They then have crucial information that may be needed, especially if your aging parent is unable to speak or needs an advocate. The care manager is “boots on the ground”. Remaining services they offer are typically charged hourly. Regardless of the fees, the main consideration of whether or not to hire a care manager is your peace of mind. In our case, I was so relieved that Alice did not have to endure hours of waiting, exams and tests in E.R. while all alone there. And we did not have to endure the highly stressful waiting to get any idea of how serious a problem Mom was having.
In all, despite the scare, we did the right thing by planning for a crisis, and the care manager was an ideal liaison for us when we really needed her. Of course, Mom will say the bill from Diane was too high, but that’s Mom.
Carolyn Rosenblatt, RN, Elder Law Attorney
AgingParents.com and AgingInvestor.com