I will be visiting my mom who lives in Muskegon, Michigan next month. One of the items on our “To Do List” is to organize her health information. When I went with her to the doctor during my trip home at Christmas, I realized how important it is to get all of this information organized and in one place. She currently keeps much of it in her purse, which seems like it would put her at risk for identity theft.
Do you have any suggestions that might help me with this process? It feels a little overwhelming.
Sounds like a good goal to set for you and your mom! And you are right to worry that keeping so much personal information in her purse puts your mom at risk for fraud. This is especially true during tax season. Experts believe tax refund fraud will top $21 billion this year.
Here are a few suggestions we have shared before with families who ask for advice on organizing a senior loved one’s medical information:
1. Gather the information: Start by pulling together all of your mother’s important medical papers. Once you have everything in one place, begin to separate the documents by topic. A few category examples might include:
- Copies of health care notes and discharge reports from any hospital stays
- Physician notes from office visits
- Results from any testing and lab work
- Copies of all of the instructions that come with each prescription
- Medicare/Medicaid identification cards and numbers
- Legal documents such as a living will, durable power of attorney, and advance directive
- Copies of all bills and co-pay receipts
2. Develop a medical history: If you haven’t done so already, you will need to create a comprehensive medical history. This should document all health conditions and surgeries along with the date of each occurrence. Be sure to list any allergies and important family medical history.
3. Create a medication list: Keeping an updated medication list is critically important. It should include both prescription medications and over-the-counter medicines. Note the dosage and times each should be taken.
4. Putting it All Together: You will want to create a system that is easy to update. One that often works well for older adults and their family caregivers is to purchase a large, 3-ring binder with dividers and pockets. You can create a section for each category of information. Other families take it a step further and also use a caregiving app. This helps make it easier for you and other family members to access, share and update your mother’s medical information from wherever you are.
5. Safe Storage: As you mentioned in your note to us, seniors are common targets for identity theft. You can help your mom decrease her risk for becoming a victim by safely storing her medical file. Securing the binder in a cabinet or file drawer with a lock is the best way to protect her personal information. Encourage family members who have a copy to do the same.
I have one last suggestion for you, Ryan. When your mom is checking out from each physician visit, remind her to ask for a copy of visit notes. Some providers can give it to her then and others will need to mail it to you after the physician updates her file. Encourage her to add them to her health file as soon as she returns home and to update any changes to her medications the physician made during her visit.
I hope this information is helpful, Ryan. If you have any questions about senior care during your visit with your mom next month, please feel free to call the Heritage Senior Community nearest you for answers!
I am the oldest of three kids and the one who lives closest to our parents. My dad had a stroke last month and is no longer able to drive. My mom was always a nervous driver in her younger days and gave it up entirely about 15 years ago.
While I’ve been helping them out here and there over the last few years, it has become a full-time challenge since my Dad had his stroke. I work part-time at the local bank and have three busy teenagers. I’m really feeling stressed out and worn out, and more than a little resentful that my siblings don’t really help.
Do you have any advice for new caregivers? I could sure use some.
Katrina in Ludington, Michigan
We hear similar stories from adult daughters almost every day in the Heritage Senior Communities across Michigan. You are definitely not alone. The Family Caregiver Alliance estimates that 65.7 million people in the U.S. provide care to someone they love. AARP reports show that unpaid caregiving services add up to $450 billion a year.
Family caregiver is a tough responsibility to take on. But we do have a few tips we think will help.
5 Tips to Help New Caregivers in Michigan
- Take Care of You: For new caregivers, this probably doesn’t sound like very realistic advice. But you can’t care for your parents if you end up with a serious illness yourself. And the statistics on caregiver health can be sobering. Gallup surveys found that a typical healthy adult has an average physical health score of 83. The average caregiver, however, only scores a 77.4.
- Ask for Help. Accepting the idea that you will need help on a routine basis and knowing where it will come from is important. Maybe your siblings can each pitch in one weekend a month? Or if they live too far away to do that, ask them to cover the expense of an in-home care aide a few hours each week. Also know that many senior living communities in Michigan offer short-term respite stays to give caregivers a break. Your local church might have a “friendly visitor” program where volunteers from the church provide support to homebound seniors.
- Organize their Medical File: Keeping all of a senior loved one’s appointments, medical paperwork, and prescriptions organized can feel overwhelming. Taking time to create a home medical file will help you feel like you are on track and prepared. There are also apps you can download to your smart phone or tablet device that allow you to safely store this information for easy access.
- Manage your Expectations: Another caregiver survival tip is to set realistic expectations for yourself. It might mean accepting that your own home won’t always be immaculate or that dinner one or two nights a week might be a healthy choice from the take-out menu of a local restaurant. Be kind to yourself and don’t feel badly about relaxing your expectations while you are caregiving.
- Create an Emergency Plan: Our final tip is a critical one. Create an back-up plan for your aging parents’ care in the event of an emergency. If something happens to you, what will happen to them? The plan might be for them to receive services from an in-home care agency or temporarily move to an assisted living community. Just be sure you have a plan is in place before a crisis occurs.
I hope these tips help, Katrina! We invite you to call the Heritage Senior Community nearest to your parents if you need more information or have questions about respite care.
If you are the adult child of a Michigan senior, at some point you will likely find yourself helping them manage their medical care. Older adults often live with multiple health conditions which can require them to take a variety of medications. In fact, on average, adults between the ages of 65 and 69 take nearly 14 prescriptions per year. And seniors aged 80 to 84 take an average of 18 prescriptions per year.
The Statistics on Medication Mistakes among Seniors
For older adults who have recently been discharged from the hospital and for seniors with memory loss, managing medications can be even more difficult. According to the Institute of Medicine, 770,000 older adults end up in a hospital emergency department every year. It is also one of the top reasons many older adults choose to move to a Michigan assisted living community. They need assistance with managing medication.
What can you do help the Michigan senior you love safely manage their medications?
Begin by making yourself aware of the potential problems a senior might encounter when trying to stay on track with their medication schedule.
Five Top Mistakes Seniors Make with Medications
Some of the most common mistakes older adults make are:
- Keep an eye on the clock. Medications for health conditions like diabetes, coronary artery disease and other chronic health conditions are time sensitive. Each dose must be taken at the right time. Seniors may forget to take a dose or take dosages too close together. Both mistakes can have serious health consequences.
- Incorrect dosage. When a senior takes a variety of different medicines each day, keeping track of each dosage amount can be challenging. This is especially true if an older adult has vision loss that makes reading the labels on prescription bottles difficult. They make take too much of one and not enough of another.
- Drug reactions. As we age, our bodies metabolize medications differently. Many times older adults need a smaller dose than younger. It puts our seniors at greater risk for an accidental overdose or an adverse reaction. One step you can take to minimize this risk for your senior loved one is to make sure each of their physicians has an updated medication list that includes over-the-counter medicines too. It also helps to have all prescriptions filled at the same pharmacy. Most pharmacies have technology that can alert you to potential drug interactions
- Modifying medication. Some health conditions that are more common among older adults can cause difficulty swallowing. It might cause a senior to become fearful of choking. This often leads older adults to cut their pills in half or smash them up to eat in food. Some medications aren’t effective if the format is altered. Those with a time release component may actually be harmful. Talk with your aging loved one’s pharmacist to see if their medication can be altered in format or if there is another solution.
- Storing medication. Most adults don’t realize how important it is to store medications at the right temperature. Many people store their medicine in the bathroom or kitchen because it is easier to access water. Experts say these may actually be the worst rooms in the house. Because the temperature and humidity fluctuate in both rooms, a safer option is be to store medicine bottles in a drawer in the bedroom.
Technology to Help Seniors Manage Medication
The good news is that technology has helped make medication management easier than it used to be. From apps like MediSafe to more sophisticated systems such as Philips Medication Dispensing Service, there are a variety of tech solutions seniors and family caregivers can make use of each day.
We hope this information allows you to spot potentials problems that might put your Michigan senior loved one at risk, and offer you a few solutions to consider.