Dear Donna:

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.

Kind Regards,



Dear Ryan:

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!