In-Home Care Strategies: Post 3 of 3

Pills sealed in bubble packaging for easy patient administration

Two additional components of a successful in-home care strategy are managing your parent’s doctor’s appointments and medications.

Doctor’s Appointments

Depending on your parent’s situation, either you or someone else may need to accompany them to their medical appointments. This usually means taking time off work. If you live at a distance or your work schedule isn’t flexible, then you must find other resources to help. Here are a few things to consider when it comes to doctor’s appointments:

Healthcare Proxies and HIPAA Releases. In today’s age of patient privacy, you will likely need a healthcare proxy or HIPAA release on file in order to speak to doctors about your parent’s medical condition.

Medical History and Current Issues. Dementia and Alzheimer’s patients often aren’t capable of communicating their own medical history or current symptoms accurately. With my Dad, I tried to serve as his voice at all his primary care, cardiology, and other specialty appointments. This is a minor point, but I made a conscious effort to never speak about my Dad in the “third person,” as if he weren’t present. Even if he couldn’t actively participate in the conversation, I tried to include him in the exchange with the doctors.

If you are unable to go to your parent’s medical appointments in person, it may be possible to call in to the appointment and participate remotely. Alternatively, be sure to educate whoever will be going to the appointment about medical history and current conditions.

Alternate People to Help with Medical Appointments. Sometimes it just isn’t possible to go to every medical appointment with your family member. This is especially true for unexpected “emergency” appointments that arise. Alternatives include hiring a home health aide or a geriatric care manager to bring your parent to their appointment. In either case, find out in advance whether they need a HIPAA release form.

“Healthcare Allies.” In my experience, some physicians and medical professionals understand how difficult it is to be a caregiver. For example, my Dad’s cardiologist always made an effort to schedule my Dad’s routine checkups and his pacemaker checks in back-to-back appointments, so I didn’t have to take time off work on two separate days. I also cultivated a relationship with the lab tech who was skilled at drawing my Dad’s blood (this was always a traumatic experience for him). Find the people who are sympathetic to your situation and make them your allies.

Communicating with Physicians and Medical Team Members

With your parent’s permission, set up online access to their electronic medical record. Fellow caregiver Jennifer Martin told me, “This has been very helpful in quickly seeing test results, appointment dates/ times/ locations (especially when we need to accompany or secure rides) and also in communicating with my parent's providers (they prefer the online system vs. phone messages). “

Medication Management

Medication management is a reality for most seniors. A recent AARP survey of  more than 1,800 people over 50 found:

  • Three-quarters take a prescription medication regularly

  • Of the individuals who take a prescription regularly, more than 80% take at least two medications and more than half take four or more

Keeping track of what medications to take and when to take them can become a real challenge for seniors. Here are two potential approaches to addressing medication management when your parent is living at home.

Family-filled medication cassettes. For a long time, I ordered my parents’ medications from their mail-order pharmacy and filled their weekly pill boxes. To increase efficiency, I filled multiple boxes at a time and labeled each one with the appropriate week. This worked reasonably well.

Multi-dose pharmacy packaging. Some traditional pharmacies and some online services (e.g., PillPack) offer multi-dose medication packaging for customers. All the pills that the patient needs to take at a certain time each day are sealed in a bubble package. This approach may also be a good option, if you don’t have the time or availability to fill pill boxes.

Organizing medications is only half the battle with medication management, however. If your family member forgets to take their prescriptions, then the best packaging in the world won’t matter. Various solutions are available, such as timers, smartphone apps, and phone call services. I don’t have firsthand experience with any of these, so I can’t comment on their advantages or disadvantages. Sometimes trial and error is the best way to settle on the solutions that will work best for your family!

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