Being Your Parent’s Healthcare Advocate: How to Get Started

This is the first in a 3-part series about the process and practice of becoming your parent’s healthcare advocate. In this part one, we talk about how to lay the groundwork for a smooth transition. 

As Bette Davis once said, “Getting old is not for sissies.”

It’s also not something that anyone should have to do alone, especially when it comes to navigating the exhaustingly complex and sometimes downright intimidating territory of personal healthcare.

If you have ever been in the position of providing even just informal support to an aging parent as he or she dealt with healthcare issues, you have probably experienced feelings of confusion, frustration, and helplessness.

It’s easy to get lost in our medical system, to feel shuffled aside and left without answers to even your most basic questions. And on top of that, you also probably had to manage feelings of anxiety, worry, and the stress of accountability.

Taking on the role of being a parent’s healthcare advocate is a big deal. It comes with many responsibilities, and those responsibilities typically grow over time. It’s important for your well being as well as your parent’s to make the right preparations. This post will help you not only to handle things with greater ease, but also help you adapt more gracefully as your role evolves.

Laying the Groundwork: A Crucial Step

The first step to being an effective healthcare advocate is listening.

You cannot advocate well for someone without an in-depth understanding of their fears, beliefs, and preferences about everything from routine doctor visits to emergency care to end-of-life situations. So, your first responsibility is to have an open and honest conversation with your parent. If you need help getting started or seeing such a conversation through, you may want to try a collaborative family meeting with an expert facilitator.

It’s important not only to listen, but to also be wary of taking things at face value. Be on the lookout for non-verbal clues about your parent’s feelings. Sometimes shame or embarrassment can keep a person from saying what they really want or need.

Finally, practice separating what you think your parent needs from what your parent wants. There are cases, of course, where you will need to make decisions for your parent (that’s part of being a healthcare advocate.); but it’s so critical to be consistently aware of your parent’s perceptions and feelings about a situation and to resist imposing your own experience on them.

Making healthcare plans is never something you should do “to” your parent or even “for” your parent. Instead, it needs to be something you do with your parent, as a supportive and respectful partner.

To see the next two parts of this series, click below:

Being a Healthcare Advocate: 9 Important Tips About Record Keeping

Being a Healthcare Advocate: How to Best Engage with Healthcare Professionals 


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