Is My Mother Dying?

by Joanna Smith on Jul 20, 2010

I had answered my phone and was speaking with an adult daughter who was exhausted from taking care of her 89 year old Mother.  She told me her Mother had fallen several times at home that week and had refused to go to the doctor. The daughter was frantic.  What was wrong? Was her Mother dying?   How could I help her?

The stress of caring for a family member can be enormous whether you leave nearby or across the country.  It is difficult to imagine how it feels until you’re in the middle of it yourself.  What could I do to help this family?

*  See the Family– Every effective Advocate needs to see the family in their own home/apartment or living environment.  Many Advocates may work by telephone, but this does not give as accurate a picture.  Video conferencing is also a great approach to use if computer access is possible and there is not an advocate in the immediate area.

Take a good history–How has her health been before this week? Does she have on-going medical conditions? What drugs is she taking?  Who are the doctors she’s seen before?  Did she like them?  Have there been sudden changes in her health?  What kinds of activities does she do every day?  Is Mom still able to make decisions  about her own healthcare or does her daughter need to step forward and assist her?

* Always get a complete list of medications–many times people (of all ages) are on multiple drugs.  An Advocate can check for drug interactions quickly and suggest a thorough review by a pharmacist or physician.

Look at the home environment–are there ways to make it safer?  Does Mom need a walker?  Should a request be made for a Home Health Nurse or Physical Therapist?  Is there additional help at home so the daughter gets a break from care giving?  If not, are there ways to get this inexpensively?

* Develop a Plan with the Family–An Advocate  draws up a comprehensive plan, with all interested people participating in the planning, of how to proceed so everyone knows what the goals are.  The plan will also help everyone see when the Advocate’s services are no longer needed.

What Happened with this Family–When I met with them,  I realized  Mother’s hesitation about going to the doctor was for an all-to-familiar reason:  she didn’t want to go to the doctor because she was afraid she’d end up in a nursing home.  I could reassure her that a doctor’s visit would help us see how to help her.  She saw her doctor, had x-rays and I asked for and received an order for Home Health physical therapy.   The doctor reviewed the many medications she was on and suggested discontinuing one of them.   The doctor could tell her she was, in fact, not dying.  Additional help from her church group gave the daughter some breaks in care giving.

An experienced advocate can make this happen for people of any age!

Next Week:  How Healthcare Advocates work with young children and families.