What to do When Your Elderly Parent Gets a Difficult Medical Diagnosis
If you or your senior parent has had the great fortune of living most of your life as a healthy individual, dealing with a new medical condition can be daunting. Suddenly they went from someone who sees their doctor once or twice a year for a check in to someone who has to meet with specialists, takes multiple medications and has a reduced quality of life due to symptoms and side effects.
So how do you move forward after a difficult medical diagnosis? Obviously, your next steps treatment-wise depend on the diagnosis and the quality of life your parent wants, but there are some things anyone with a chronic illness will need to address.
You’ve Been Diagnosed, Now What?
Once you’ve received a diagnosis, you’re first step should be to set up an appointment with a specialist. If your specialists are like mine, it might take a while to get an appointment – my first appointment with a rheumatologist took four months to get booked. That left a lot of time to play “Dr. Google,” as my husband and I call it.
Of course, one of the first things my doctor said when she gave me the name of my condition was to stay of the internet, so naturally, the first thing I did was hop online. While she said to stay off the internet, she did make it clear that if I do decide to research my condition online, to be aware that I will probably see the worst of my condition, since those who suffer the worst tend to have the loudest voice. I’m so grateful for this advice because I did see some very scary pictures and read some depressing testimonials. Knowing that those were the worst case scenarios helped manage my expectations.
Since it is likely that your parent will have to wait a while to see a specialist, and you will probably be going online, this is the time to do your research. Look up the various treatment options and potential stages of the condition. Make a list of your questions for the doctor so that when you do see the specialist, you maximize your time. Regardless of how much research you do, no medical case is textbook and everyone’s body responds differently to treatments. Arming yourself with information won’t take away the unknown, but it will help guide the discussions.
If your parent has a condition that has support groups or a non profit association, reach out to them. They will have resources that can be helpful to you and your parent, as well as the latest information on treatments and coping.
The more educated you are, the more manageable the impact on your family will be.
Acceptance and Coping
Quite honestly, there will always be moments where your parent will get frustrated with the new norm. I have been dealing with chronic illness for almost seven years and while for the most part, I don’t let it impact my life, there are still moments where I get frustrated or down about my new norm (I still call it new, even though it has been 7 years).
Allow your parents to mourn the loss of their health. It is a big deal. We don’t appreciate our health until we no longer have it. I used to hate going to the gym. Now, I get frustrated that there are days where I can’t work out because I am already in too much pain. Your parent will get frustrated that they suddenly have to take a plethora of medication to feel mildly better.
If possible, seek out support groups for your parent to join so that they can talk to people like them. If it is difficult for them to get out of the house, look into online support groups. It really does help to have people who are going through what you are going through.
Once you’ve set up a support group, look into ways to make dealing with their condition more manageable. Do they need to do physical or occupational therapy to build their strength up? Can you have someone come to their home to clean and/or cook meals for them? How can you make their day-to-day more simple so that they aren’t taxed by chores and can enjoy their free time?
Let your parent be the guide to how much help they need. Don’t immediately start doing everything for them assuming they can’t do anything. You don’t want them to become so sedentary that their muscles atrophy. Keep them as active as they are able to be and allow them to maintain their independence. There is a fine line between helping and taking over. Let them be your guide.
Depending on the medical plan your parent has, medical care for a chronic illness can be expensive. People have no idea how expensive it is to be sick! If your parent has a co-pay for medical visits and prescriptions, they will need to prepare for the impact on their budget.
For example, I had an infection that didn’t respond to antibiotics and I ultimately needed to have that section of skin removed. It took seven medical appointments from diagnosis to surgery, each visit costing me a $25 co-pay. I also had two rounds of antibiotics at $15 each. That little infection cost me $205 in one month. It adds up when you have to constantly see specialists or get physical therapy or take a new medication.
You may want to consider switching their medical plan to reduce their out of pocket costs or exploring benefits available to them. Visit my resource page for links to government benefits that they may be eligible for. If they have outstanding medical bills, you can also call their medical provider to be put on a payment plan. Most medical providers are happy to do so and don’t charge interest on the bill.
Receiving a difficult medical diagnosis is difficult. Once you arm yourself with research and a plan of action, you can make it more manageable. Do you have any tips to organizing medical care?