How to Handle a Parent’s Unexpected Illness or Injury

  How to Handle a Parent’s Unexpected Illness or Injury

(And how to Prepare for the Inevitable)

It can be somewhat easier to prepare and care for a parent with a chronic illness. Knowing what needs to be done when there is an accident or sudden illness is more difficult. There can be so many unanswered questions. Be sure to ask these questions before there is an issue, if possible:

Are there bills that need to be paid?

What insurance coverage do they have beyond Medicare?

Does Hospice or a home health care provider need to be called?

Is it still safe to be home alone or is it time for assisted living?

Is there a durable power of attorney?

Is there a DNR order or Advanced Directive on file with the state?

Are there bills that need to be paid?

Here are some basic questions to ask your parent(s):

  1. Do you pay bills online?
  2. Is your Social Security automatically deposited into your bill pay account?
  3. Are there any bills you pay by check?
  4. Do you have the user names and passwords written down for your banking and credit sites?

What insurance coverage do they have beyond Medicare?

It is important to know who their secondary insurance carrier is and whether the premium needs to be paid. Get a copy of the policy or make sure you know where the files are kept. Also, have the agent’s name, if appropriate.

There may be questions about what is covered and what deductibles need to be met.

Does Hospice or a home health care provider need to be called?

Is your parent terminal? If so, be sure to call their local Hospice. The Hospice program is wonderful and comprehensive. They will assist your parents in their own home with medical issues, personal hygiene, religious needs, stress management, and more.

Home health care providers will come to the home and assist with any nursing and physical therapy needs.

Is it still safe to be home alone or is it time for assisted living?

If your parent is living alone and plans to return home after any hospitalization, then you may want to check with Hospice or home health care to make sure the home is safe enough.

Hospice can help with medical supplies, grab bars, wheel chairs, commodes, walkers, shower seats, and much more.

Depending on your parent’s autonomy, there are assisted living places that offer an onsite apartment with the ability to move to more comprehensive care when necessary.

Is there a durable power of attorney?

A durable power of attorney allows someone to make medical decisions on behalf of your parent when they are not able to decide for themselves.

It is very important that someone in your family has a durable power of attorney—preferably someone who lives close to your parent(s). If both parents are alive, then the spouse should be the primary DPA, if capable.

Is there a DNR order or Advanced Directive on file with the state and the doctor’s office?

Make certain your parent(s) has created an Advanced Directive or DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) with their physician and that it is filed with the state.

The advanced directive specifies if and when to proceed with life-saving treatment. For example, your parent might want to be resuscitated if quality of life will not be dramatically affected, but may choose not to be if they will be in a vegetative state.

Check to see if their wishes are spelled out to their satisfaction (or yours if your parent is unable).

One last note

Did you know there are universities that will take your parent’s body and use it for medical training and then will cremate the body for you at no charge? They will even spread the ashes for you if you don’t want to do it yourself.

Check with your local hospice center for the school names and requirements.

It’s never easy to face your parents’ mortality, but if you and they are prepared then the process will more pain-free and will make meeting their urgent needs smoother and less stressful for all.

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End of Life: Returning to Innocence—the Dying Process

Dad had a terrible childhood. His mother never liked him, favoring his sisters over him (but not by much). He started to run away to escape her from the time he was 7 and when he would return she would call the authorities on him and he would be dragged off to a group home or juvenile hall.

He never had a safe and nurturing home. He didn’t know love. And he ran through his life, creating all kinds of turmoil because he didn’t know any better.
Then my mom found him. And he continued his ways with her for years…until she wouldn’t take anymore. She divorced him after 21 years together and remarried him two years later, after he realized that no one loved and took care of him the way she did.

He slowly emerged from that shell of a man to become the man he had always been inside. Late, but not too late.

This was a man whose brilliance knew no limits. If he had known a loving home as a child, he could have gone to college. He would have certainly made an impact in the scientific community. Instead, he spent every free moment in the garage building incredible inventions and discovering new and better ways to do things.

On December 26th, 2009 he became terminally ill. This man, whose mind was always working, had to slow down and relinquish most of his duties.

I watched him over the course of the last ten months of his life as he became more and more dependent on us for his very survival. At first, he fought it. But as his breath became more and more labored, he started to accept it (much to mom’s chagrin—she was afraid he was giving up).

Just before summer, he started closing his eyes much of the day. This really scared mom…again, she thought he was giving up. I tried to explain that this is part of the process of dying—that he was taking stock of his life and coming to terms with his past and with his present condition. But after 62 years with this man, she could not envision life without him. If he fought harder, maybe he would stay longer.

This is not uncommon—loved ones don’t want to let go—we love them too much.

By summer he was in a wheelchair any time we left the house. My dog Molly and I would take him for walks along the greenbelt and it was a wonderful opportunity to just be with him.

Toward the end, he was more like a small child with a big brain than a grown and dying man. I watched as his health declined and saw that as his illness progressed, he fought less and less. At the end, he had not only come to terms with his situation but this normally proud man showed no embarrassment as we had to help him in every aspect of his life.

Dad died October 29th, 2010—three days after their 63rd wedding anniversary. I’m sure he hung on just to make it to that day. We never know why some things are so important to the dying like making it to a certain date, or going to a particular place, or eating certain foods.

When assisting a dying loved one, take requests seriously. Do whatever is needed to help this person overcome the fear of dying. Be willing to talk and listen about their fears and about dying.
Find a local Hospice center. They not only have facilities to care for a dying loved one, but they will also come to your home and help with almost every need you or your loved one might have.

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Personal Coaching – Feeling Sad or Depressed

Reprinted. Original Date: Sept 30, 2010

Personal Development: Feeling Sad or Depressed

I had a series of incidents in my life that threw me into a tail spin. None of my tools were working and nothing anyone said helped.

My dad is terminal and I care for him full time. I received a call from the Hospice social worker, who knew I was having a tough time. I was already on a call, so I didn’t speak with him.

Later, I had this image in my mind that I was in a whirlwind and I was reaching out with my entire arm, but kept missing everyone who reached out to help. I was feeling utterly alone and overwhelmed.

A friend came to stay for a few days and it really helped just to laugh and relax. As we talked and I started to feel better, I said, “I felt like I was waist deep in the mud and slowly sinking and you were trying to throw me a rope.”
She looked surprised and said, “I had a picture in my mind that I was pulling you out of a hole or something similar.”

What had bothered me about it was that the mud felt ok. It was familiar—almost comfortable. Isn’t that the way? Isn’t that why change is so scary? Life may suck, but at least you know what to expect, right?

It’s a little different for me, since any situation like this can help me understand and assist my clients better. But for most of you, these feelings can be overwhelming; and without proper tools or mentors, they can last much longer than they need to.

When you feel yourself slipping into that oh-so-familiar rut and you can’t seem to pull yourself out, get help. Talk with your pastor, priest, or rabbi. Talk to friends you trust, your partner, or find a counselor or a coach.

It’s way too easy to get caught up in the feelings when you are dealing with it alone. And remember, the mud may feel familiar—comfortable even—but it is not safe. It reminds me of a quote by Anais Nin:
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

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End of Life – When to Get Help for an Elderly Loved One

When you visit an elderly family member in their home, look at their surroundings, and watch for changes that may signal a new physical or mental problem. Or perhaps he or she is no longer capable of living alone.

This is often a very difficult decision, but if made in a timely manner the risk of illness or injury can be minimized.

Above all, don’t force your love ones into a facility against their will. Allow them to have dignity at the end of their lives.

They may choose to stay in their home if autonomous and coherent. Fortunately, there are some wonderful resources for this situation:

  • Hospice: If your loved is terminal, call your local Hospice. They are wonderful in every aspect—they offer:
    • Physical and medical help from making breakfast and bathing to having a nurse and social worker visit regularly to assist with anything they need.
    • Massage and physical therapy.
    • Religious assistance.
    • Grief Counseling for the family.
    • 24-hour phone assistance and emergency visits.
  • Home Health Groups: If your loved one needs in-home care, Home Health groups (like Home Helpers, who provided the Ten Warning Signs article) are a blessing to both the family and the loved one. They also provideHelp for new mothers.
    • Help for new mothers.
    • Care after an illness or an injury.
    • Continued care for those with long term needs.
    • 24-hour assistance with Direct Link (emergency button you wear).

There are links for these groups on the Resources page.

Ten Warning Signs that Mom or Dad May Need Help

  1. Personal hygiene – Is he shaving? Does she shower less frequently, wear dirty clothes, or have neglected teeth? Are there any injuries that you can see? Is there a urine smell?
  2. Forgetfulness – Are there stacks of unopened mail or newspapers, unpaid bills, unfilled prescriptions or missed appointment slips?
  3. Interaction/Behavior – Does she constantly repeat questions? Can he carry on an extended conversation? Does he refuse any suggestion or does he just agree with everything said? Does he retain what was said? Are there any apparent mood swings? Is he unusually loud or quiet? Is she angry? Making phone calls at all hours of the night?
  4. Relationships – Do friends call? Have relationships changed in such a way that friends and neighbors have expressed concerns? Has she quit socializing or participating, when she has always kept those fun appointments?
  5. Mobility/Medication – Can she get around? Can he take medications without supervision? What are the medications? Who goes to the doctor with him? Is he going to the doctor at all or does she refuse to go?
  6. Refrigerator/Eating Habits – Does it contain adequate food? Is there any spoiled food present? Have his eating habits changed? Has she lost weight? Has she missed meals or have a lack of appetite?
  7. Shopping – Can he determine tips or does he have difficulty? Any problems making change or writing checks?
  8. Buying things not needed – Is there evidence of excessive shopping or ordering? Is the mail full of charitable letters, a sign that money is being given to anyone who asks?
  9. House – Does it look maintained, or is it in disrepair? Is dust accumulating where (at one time) she was a great housekeeper? Is trash accumulating?
  10. Driving – Can he drive safely? Is her reaction time adequate on the road? Are there any signs of an accident?
Posted in End of Life Blog | 1 Comment

Family Coaching – The Difference Between Acceptance and Acceptable

I have a family member who is slow to overwhelm, which is both good and bad…it’s good because she can handle a lot, but it’s bad because when she finally does get to the edge it has become bigger and meaner than it needs to be. And she has never been comfortable apologizing when she is wrong.

And here is where acceptance comes in—in accepting her as she is I don’t add any meaning to her moods or beliefs. This frees me to just love her. But I will not accept meanness from her. I don’t have to accept her behavior when she gets upset and raises her voice over something trivial.

One evening, she became very angry with me over something that was truly meaningless. She misunderstood me and then quit listening. I had to ask her to stop yelling at me.

When I left, we were upset with one another. I ranted to myself about the injustice of it all, especially since I am trying to be available to everyone at the same time—my family members, my dying dad, and my clients.

And here is where acceptance comes in again—in accepting her as she is, once I let go of my frustration with what happened, I can once again just love her. So after a couple of hours I checked on her to see if she needed anything. I kissed her goodnight and felt no attitude or anger whatsoever.

A side effect of acceptance is that you no longer feel the need to blame yourself when someone is upset with you. If you are blameless or the person is overreacting, then realizing that their attitude has nothing to do with you keeps you from taking it personally.

Posted in Family Coaching Blog | 6 Comments