Take control of your care by asking questions
Tackling a few major hurdles right now will ease your mind and help you and your parents feel better in the long run. Here are few tips to make this mundane yet complex issue easier to manage.
First and foremost you and your parents need the best and most affordable healthcare coverage available. Considering the current state – and the potential changes – of your health, your parents’ health, and the health of your possibly still-dependent children will be a complex task at best. Richard Otto, Independent Agent at David Chapman Insurance Agency suggests consulting with one or more independent agents versus a Captive Agent.
An Independent Agent offers more choices. Captive Agents represent a limited set of insurance products, which while a viable option is still a limited option.
According to Otto, a good Independent Agent will walk you through the list of questions and help you acquire the answers if you don’t have them readily available.
“To make an informed decision about a major change, remember you want to trust your Agent – be it Captive or Independent. This is the primary issue,” Otto says.
If you don’t feel comfortable, keep looking. Research the carriers this agent suggests before you sign up for new or additional coverage.
Getting insurance coverage now as opposed to ‘at need’ is of paramount importance to avoid unnecessary hardship.
Most Independent Agents provide: life, health, individual health and group health, Medicare plans, home and auto, and commercial policies.
Managing Your Healthcare Providers
Your health – and the health of your parents – depends upon you communicating with and asking the right – sometimes tough questions of your insurance carriers as well as your healthcare providers.
In essence, we must become advocates for ourselves and our parent’s medical care. If we designated Power of Attorney for our parents, the position is obvious, the ‘how to’ may not be so obvious. It is not unreasonable to ask questions of our doctors.
Questions might include: What leads you to prescribe this medication for my father? What are the alternatives? What are the side effects? How might this affect his mood, physicality, and so forth? Are there any at-home precautions we can take to help him attain and maintain better health?
It’s no surprise that some, or most, Doctors are caught in a labyrinth of bureaucracy just to maintain their business. Of no fault of their own, some healthcare providers are too busy and spread far too thin to ask pertinent questions, which can ultimately lead to the health – or disease of their patients. You and your parents are among them.
The emergence of Concierge Medicine – an exclusive level of service from Doctors who limit their patient intake – may be a viable option for some, yet not everyone has the financial flexibility to hire this type of Doctor.
Point in Case
In speaking with a Baby Boomer, he unveiled an all-too-familiar scenario with his aging parent: Dementia versus Alzheimer’s and how to handle it.
According to The Alzheimer’s Association, Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are two distinct health issues, which run along the same continuum.
Dementia is the loss of mental functions — such as thinking, memory, and reasoning — that is severe enough to interfere with a person’s daily functioning. Dementia is not a disease itself, but rather a group of symptoms that are caused by various diseases or conditions.
Alzheimer’s is a brain disease that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior.
Upon reading my article in last year’s Imagine Section of the Lansing State Journal, this Boomer met with – and followed the advice of – the Tri County Office on Aging. Given the scenario, Tri County’s representative suggested a Geriatric workup for his out-of-state mother.
He had noticed her mental decline over the course of two years, and has spent nearly this entire past year working with his family members and various doctors to get to root of his mother’s memory loss, peculiar behavior, and what appeared to be her untrue recollection of events – even paranoia.
After month of medical appointments, trips, and tests, his mother’s Geriatric Psychiatrist confirms a diagnosis of “Cognitive Impairment” as well as presumed “early stages of Alzheimer’s” and immediately prescribes two mood/mind-altering medications.
And then it hit him: The unasked question. “When did these behaviors begin?”
His mother’s General Practitioner had prescribed an anti-anxiety medication (Ativan) for his mother three years ago. After logging onto RxList, he realized the side effects from this drug include every symptom his mother is experiencing. Among the side effects are: memory loss, confusion, increased anxiety, fatigue, sleeplessness, amnesia, forgetfulness, trouble concentrating, hallucinations, and more.
The appearance of this new information caused this Boomer to ask his mother’s Geriatric Psychiatrist whether he factored in this drug before rendering his diagnosis and prescribing two new mind/mood-altering medications to treat it. He also asked why his mother needed to remain on the anti-anxiety drug?
We cannot assume the doctor treating us – or our parents – has the time to go over every single detail of the patient’s chemical makeup, medications and dosages – especially if the patient is geriatric with a seemingly faltering memory.
The more responsibility we take, the more we research we perform, the better position we are in to retain the best possible health – and health care from our providers. Taking an active role, becoming proactive rather than reactive, and most of all providing all information to our doctors to ensure they – and we – make the most informed decisions is the only way we can know we have done everything in our control to help maintain the well-being of our aging parents, as well as ourselves.
The nuances involved in our body chemistry, the multitude of medications and treatments can be mind-boggling. Our age, our diet, our lifestyle and genetics all come into play when trying to make informed decisions with regard to our health care. Asking these questions may prove helpful:
1. How does the parent’s personal home-life, such as drinking alcohol, mixing over-the-counter cold medications with mind-altering affects along with prescribed mood-altering drugs affect her cognitive abilities and physical health?
2. Is your parent happy at home?
3. Does your parent have a healthy support system?
4. Does your parent engage in social activities or joyfulness on a daily basis?
5. How does the parent’s physical activity affect his/her physical and mental health?
Boomers face some tough questions, particularly those surrounding a potential diagnosis of dementia versus Alzheimer’s. Education, awareness, and ultimately being proactive rather than reactive will reduce the stress – and potentially avoid a misdiagnosis.
[Previously published in the Lansing State Journal By: Tamera Nielsen]