I Grew Up Never Knowing My Parents or Their Wishes and Now I’m Power of Attorney
As our parents (or clients/friends) get older, many of us find ourselves thrust into the role of decision maker. We’ve been appointed as their Power of Attorney and/or Healthcare Surrogate. Now, we not only have to make potentially life and death decisions for them, we find ourselves in the role of advocate and on call to deal with a wide array of situations.
Challenges of Becoming the Power of Attorney
This is never easy. It’s a role weighted with responsibility and full of twists and turns. You may be the only one available to make decisions and left without much of a clue about what they would have wanted. Or, you might find yourself butting heads with other relatives or professionals who resent your role or create a lot of problems.
This position can be especially tough if you haven’t had a relationship with your parents. On the other hand you might have a good relationship, but your family avoided these topics. It is not unusual for adult children to have no idea what Mom wants, her health details, her financial situation, etc. We often encounter families who’ve suffered some level of estrangement over the years. Now, the adult child finds themselves in the uncomfortable role of managing the daily affairs for a person who they barely know or with whom they have unresolved issues.
Additionally, no matter what your relationship, you’ll quickly find that this is a 24/7 job. Often, the need to get involved stems from a crisis so you’re thrown right into decision making. Typically, decisions need to be made quickly. The pressure can be intense, especially when you were unprepared for this responsibility.
Even those who know the medical system well or who serve as professionals helping older clients might not realize the intensity of this job. For most, it’s a steep learning curve to try to figure out things like the medical system, what care and support is available, what level of care the person needs, how they will pay for care or become eligible for an array of disconnected programs, Medicare, Medicaid, medications and on and on. You might find yourself dealing with a client whose dementia is causing them to be belligerent or who has neglected their home to the point of danger.
When you are the Power of Attorney/Healthcare Surrogate and the person needs support, you become the person who gets all the phone calls. And, they’re not just during business hours since medical emergencies don’t know to wait for weekdays.
Quick Note: Difference Between Power of Attorney and Healthcare Surrogate (or Healthcare POA)
We mentioned a couple different terms here, so we want to make sure you’re clear on the different documents and how they function. Check out our article “What’s the Difference Between a Power of Attorney and Healthcare Surrogate?” to learn more.
Solutions to Help You as Power of Attorney
First, if you are reading this and aren’t in the throes of a crisis...NOW is the time to plan. If you still have the opportunity to be sure your elderly loved ones or clients have the proper documents in place, it can save everyone headaches (and time and money). Equally important are the conversations around the person’s wishes. This can lift a big weight off your shoulders, knowing that you have some understanding of what they want. It can also stave off conflicts. For example, if the family sits down (perhaps with mediation by a care manager) and discusses the plan for handling decisions, it doesn’t all come as a shock when something happens.
Check out how we can help in our “planning for the future” and “family conflict” sections here.
Care Technology and Coordination
Whether you’re preparing ahead or in the midst of helping, we have three key tips to help your loved one get their healthcare organized. These will be essential for you when serving as the healthcare surrogate.
EasyLiving’s Care Technology was designed expressly for this reason. With tools like our Family Room Portal, remote patient monitoring, and chronic disease management, we help you stay on top of what is happening to prevent unnecessary crises. Using proven care technology has shown to reduce issues like falls, medication errors and hospitalizations.
Through our technology-enabled care coordination, we mitigate risk, increase the elder’s quality of life, and reduce your stress.
Your Professional Sounding Board
Working closely with a care manager means you have an advisor so that you can make the most informed decisions. Imagine you have been estranged from your parent and now have to make these big decisions. Or, you are the person’s professional advisor who has agreed to take on this duty. You’ll get input about what’s happening from various sources and then be expected to make the decisions. That is a lot to process on your own!
One of the most valuable services our care managers provide is being a sounding board in these cases. We pull together the information, explain your options clearly, and talk through pros and cons. And, you know we’ll be there throughout the next steps. That is a huge relief. If you’re a professional acting in this role or a family member being second-guessed by others (or yourself), consulting a neutral professional like this is really a must. Just having the documentation alone might come in handy if things get contentious.
Doing Better, with a Care Team
One of the biggest stressors of being a Healthcare Power of Attorney is being on call all the time. Having to quickly react and figure out what you’re dealing with makes the role more than the sum of its parts. Not only is this stressful, but it isn’t realistic to do alone. What happens when you go on vacation? Are you prepared to deal with various emergencies over the years on any given weekend or night? How realistic is that with your other responsibilities? The best solution is to have a care team ready to assist you.
Being Healthcare Power of Attorney does not mean you do 100% of the caregiving yourself. It means that you make the decisions and help ensure the best, most appropriate care. In most cases, that means “outsourcing” tasks. A care manager can be the perfect partner. Along with consulting, they can coordinate and attend doctors’ appointments, set up services, navigate programs and eligibility, and even be on call to handle emergencies.
If you’re serving as Healthcare Surrogate/Power of Attorney or will be in the future, start off right by consulting with a care manager.