I heard this on a commercial recently: we think we have all this time until we don’t. It’s a powerful yet true statement that proved to be painfully true. My great aunt went into the hospital for a routine gall bladder surgery, no major health concerns at 78; two days later sepsis creeped in and she never regained consciousness. The weeks in between though were about antibiotics to try, whether or not to keep the tubes in (what were her wishes?), and eventually considering a move to a rehab facility to help her regain strength and hopefully wake up which happened briefly and then that was it.They told us it was her ‘rally,’ a brief awakening before end-of-life neared.
This was not supposed to happen to an otherwise extremely independent 78-year old. Her husband who is in his late 80’s counted on her to do the health insurance, paperwork, and organize details and yet she was the one lying in the hospital bed unable to speak. Her children who were in their early 60’s and older were not prepared. They assumed they had time to ask about this stuff someday.
That ‘someday’ became today and it was too late. As preparations for a move to rehab came, the family conversation gained even greater frustration when they realized they didn’t know where to start. Not to mention, anytime spent looking for the necessary information was less time spent with their loved one – you can’t do both. The hospital social workers and discharge planners needed that information to move her. In those moments of conflicted emotions, it’s hard to step back and think.
Even in the midst of the roller coaster ride of hospitalizations and ER visits, when you are in and out of the hospital with your senior parent, you think to yourself, ‘I wish I had taken the time to pull all the important information the first time it happened and put it into one secure place.’ But we never do that, do we? In moments of crisis or dealing with chronic illness, we focus on the moment, the reactive situation, and solve that, then move on to the next.
DOWNLOAD OUR FREE GUIDE: Protection Information Checklist
Where do you start? What should you know? The first would be take that step back now while you are clear and focused to proactively support your loved one’s goals to age the way they want. The advice we’ve heard from adult children who’ve been there runs the gamut, but overall, these 5 things are the common must-haves when it comes to gathering your loved one’s important information:
- Financial information – Put into one secure location the online banking passwords, account information, checkbooks, debit cards, and direct deposits. Don’t forget tax returns which are often an overlooked piece – you’ll need these if you’re now responsible for filing them or if exploring a rehab facility or senior housing, who will request copies of your loved one’s last tax return. Ask about prepaid funeral arrangements, including funeral home costs or cemetery plots – you’d be surprised how often people don’t know their loved ones have done this already.
- Medication & provider list – Not just medications they are currently on but any they’ve received or had reactions to including those recently given during ER or hospitalizations. Create a list of their primary care physician and any providers they regular see – yes, dentist and optometrists too!
- Advanced directives – Make sure you have documentation of your loved one’s health wishes in case they can’t speak for themselves; confirm that these have been signed by your loved one. Often they’ll start the process but forget to sign them, this is critical to ensuring their wishes are fulfilled.
- Discharge papers or Military ID – If your loved one served in the military, you’ll need their Military ID (if they still have one) and/or their discharge papers. Without them, you won’t be able to tap into veteran benefits available to your loved one. Make sure you have access to their military service paperwork and keep it in one safe location.
- Insurance and Medicare cards – You may need copies of this information for your loved ones even if they’ve died. Sometimes adult children or a spouse will throw away their cards thinking they don’t need them anymore but if the insurance benefits for a spouse are in the deceased’s name, you’ll need copies of their cards. This also happens when people enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan and then later choose hospice services. Currently your loved one’s original Medicare number is what is needed to get hospice care.
Gathering this information is really about preserving your loved one’s desires to age the way they want. It’s why proactive planning, if you can, is a critical piece that can give you and your loved one peace of mind if and when a health crisis hits. Planning ahead is a clear headed opportunity to look at the big picture and ask the right questions while you can – ‘what are your wishes, what’s important to you, what should we know if you can’t speak?’ Whether these pieces of information are practical or less discernible, like making sure everyone knows that the blanket your mom is in the middle of knitting is for the new great-grand-baby – every detail matters.
What else should you be gathering and where should you keep it? Download a copy of Homespire’s Protected Information Checklist. Knowing the right information is part of keeping their goals and wishes organized. The second part is preventing hospitalizations and ER visits in the first place. Reach out to Homespire Life Care Managers to help them age in place.