As Parents Age, Health Providers Face Unique Challenges

December 5, 2014
Stephen H. Hanson, PA-C

As a PA, I routinely help families cope with illness and debilitation of a loved one, but it is much harder to be objective with your own parent.

Many families across America recently came together to celebrate Thanksgiving. Mine was no exception. Spending time with my father over the holiday was wonderful and a chance for us to catch up on everything happening in our lives.

It was also a stark reminder of how my father, still relatively strong, is aging. Our vision of our parents remains timeless for so many years, and then they enter the twilight of their lives and we all start to see the significant, inevitable changes.

While many moments together were filled with joy and laughter, it was hard to watch the difficulty with which my father deals with some of the routine activities of daily living. Getting in and out of a car, walking up stairs, hearing and seeing, all present major challenges to my dad, and many older adults in our society.

I have recently had a number of talks with my father about driving, independent living, and safety. As a PA, I routinely help families cope with illness and debilitation of a loved one, but it is much harder with a parent, spouse, or child to be impartial and objective. I have more medical knowledge and experience than the average caregiver, and sometimes that makes it more difficult to address these issues in caring for a loved one.

The “talk” is important for those of us children who are about to become caregivers of the older adults in our lives. Demographics and the aging baby boomer population indicate that this will be a growing concern for many in the foreseeable future.

Planning, anticipating and starting the conversation will grant both the older adults in our lives as well as caregivers security. Several starting points I recommend addressing include:

Financial safety. Older adults can have a difficult time navigating our constantly changing technology, and are vulnerable to fraud and identity theft. The passwords my father was using on his banking and credit card accounts would take me about 30 seconds to crack. We spent time setting up a cloud-based password app on his computer as well as his mobile devices, and we set highly secure, unique passwords for all of his critical accounts to protect his assets.

Personal safety. Due to some health issues, my father’s mobility and stability on his feet are growing concerns. This is compounded by the hilly nature of my father’s property, a particular concern in the winter. We discussed that the time might be coming from him to relocate to the city with me, where there is significant transportation and other support options for older adults. He is not ready for this. The compromise was a 24/7 personal alert system on his person, where he could call for help in an emergency. Personal safety issues will continue to mount as we age. We have to be vigilant as providers as well as family caregivers.

Driving safety. My father still has his driver’s license and is fiercely independent, living in a rural area where driving is a necessity. Thankfully, at our urging, he is working closely with both the nurse practitioner he sees regularly for his routine health maintenance as well as his cardiologist, who is well aware of his cardiovascular status to navigate any issues his health could have on his driving.

As healthcare providers, we often see older adults with wide ranges of healthcare needs and questions. Some older adult patients might be far healthier than others. As providers, we would not stop ourselves from communicating with these patients about their needs, concerns, and abilities, nor should we with our families.

Participating or initiating discussions about safety and adjustments, while sometimes challenging for both caregivers and parents, will ensure the health, safety, and comfort of older adults as their lives and needs continue to evolve and change.

This blog was provided in partnership with the American Academy of Physician Assistants.