Parenting Aging Parents: 5 Types of Questions to Ask Your Parent’s Doctors

You didn’t swap bodies with your parents, but these days, your life is feeling a lot like the comedy Freaky Friday. At some point, roles reversed and you became the concerned caregiver.

One of your many duties as a caregiver may be to help your parents manage their health care. You may have a million questions prepared for their next medical appointment — or you may not know what to ask, but you know you need answers.

Here are five questions to ask when you take your aging parent for a medical appointment.

Question #1: How do I properly prepare for my caregiver role?

Why this question is important:

You are taking on the responsibilities of your parent and their wellbeing.

This is likely the first time you’re caring for someone who’s not your own kid. There’s new equipment, new medications, new skills you need to learn to be able to care for your parent in the best way possible.

For example: If your dad has a fall in the shower, do you know how to properly lift him back to an upright position? If your mom has a side effect from a medication, will you recognize it?

As baby boomers get older, the number of caregivers increases by the day. In fact, there are more than 90 million caregivers in America to date. But most of them are new to the role. They are unfamiliar with the many challenges they face, so it is important to seek guidance and training.

Ask your aging parent’s health care provider about tips and training, including:

  • Demonstrating how to give them medications and use medical equipment
  • Talking to your parents about their finances and legal paperwork
  • Involving reluctant family members in the caregiving process
  • Discussing your parent’s condition with them

They may also be able to recommend support groups whose members can help you prepare for your role. Make sure to ask about self-care as well, because the role of caregiving can take a lot out of you.

Question #2: What are the dangers of juggling multiple medications?

Why this question is important:

As a caregiver, managing multiple prescriptions for your aging parent can seem like another stressful task added to your to-do list. But you want to make sure they’re taking their medication correctly.

Every 21 seconds Poison Control receives a call about a medication error. Common types of medication errors include:

  • Incorrect dosage
  • Taking or administering the wrong medication
  • Inadvertently taking the medication twice

Luckily, 93.5 percent of the people who have suffered from medication errors had mild symptoms.

To prevent this from happening in the first place, organization is key.

Ask your parent’s health care provider to review the days, times, and dosages for each of their medications at every appointment. Then, place the information where everyone can find it, like on the refrigerator. Adding reminder alerts on both yours and your parent’s mobile devices can help them stick to their medication regimen even when they aren’t at home.

Question #3: Does my parent need more supervision — and what resources are available?

Why this question is important:

Aging parents can be a danger to themselves, especially if they are living with dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Here are some other issues that can come up:

  • They forget their name and address.
  • They forget they aren’t allowed to drive.
  • They sit in soiled clothes for hours.
  • They compromise their social security number and card information.
  • They share their whereabouts frequently on social media, like checking in when they’re at the bank.
  • They make unintended purchases and buy unnecessary subscriptions.

As people with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other cognitive conditions get older, they need more supervision and help with day-to-day tasks.

Adult children may feel hesitant to reach out to their parent’s health care provider because their parents make them feel as though they should be the only ones assisting them. But it is okay to ask for help with your aging parents if caregiving becomes too much.

If you feel that it may be time to increase their supervision, ask their health care providers about case management, social workers, and in-home help during their next medical appointment.

Before then, write down your observations. This can help you recognize their progression through the stages of dementia so you can be prepared with details when bringing up concerns with their medical providers.

Additional questions to ask may include:

  • How can I keep an eye on them without making them feel like I’m hovering?
  • Are there any local resources (e.g., respite care) if I need a brief break from caregiving?
  • How do I know when it’s time to increase their supervision (e.g., look into home health care or a skilled nursing care facility)?
  • What services do you offer that could help?
  • How can I talk to my parents about my concerns without making it sound like I’m babying them?

Question #4: How can I help my aging parents exercise?

Why this question is important:

Exercising can be just as beneficial as medication and treatment to your loved one’s health, depending on their condition.

For instance, 30 minutes of walking in the morning can lower a person’s blood pressure for the entire day — especially if they are overweight. And light forms of meditation and strength training exercises — such as tai chi — can boost memory.

As their caregiver, you’ll want to make sure your parents are getting the right amount of exercise — and that they’re doing it safely. Their health care provider can give you guidance to get you started on the right path.

Additional questions to ask regarding exercise:

  • Does my parent actually want to exercise?
  • Which types of physical activity are best for my parent?
  • Are there any activities they should avoid?
  • How can I help them get enough physical activity?
  • What are signs I should look out for that they are not getting enough exercise/are getting too much exercise?

Question #5. How can I help my aging parent eat right?

Why is this question important:

Diet, perhaps more than medication, is one of the first places to start to keep your parents healthy. If their goal is to stay out of the hospital, start in the kitchen.

You always hear that too much of something can be bad for you, but it turns out that too little of it can have the same outcome.

For example: If your aging parent has diabetes, it is important to monitor their blood sugar levels closely to maintain them. Or if they have high blood pressure, maintaining a low sodium/sodium-free diet can help.

Ask your parent’s health care provider if there are any specific kinds of eating plans they recommend based on your parent’s condition, such as the Mediterranean diet. This diet is rich in fish, olive oil, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, potatoes, and nuts. Studies suggest that older adults who adopt the Mediterranean diet rank significantly higher on cognitive tests than those who eat less healthy diets.

Your health care provider may also have resources to recommend for you — such as healthy eating support groups or cooking classes that you and your parent can attend together. As a bonus, programs like those allow you to spend time bonding and having fun together, too.

If you are a caregiver and have questions or concerns about your aging parent’s health, make sure to check in regularly with their providers. All questions are valid and deserve to be heard.

Call (785) 270-4440 to schedule an appointment with your Stormont Vail primary care provider. If you’re not a Stormont Vail patient, call (785) 270-4440 to set up your first appointment with one of our primary care providers.

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