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How to Advocate for Aging Parents

Discover helpful tips on advocating for aging parents living in assisted living. Seniorly recommends staying in close touch with both parents and staff.

By Seniorly Editor · Updated Sep 28, 2021
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Once your parent moves to an assisted living community, your responsibilities don’t automatically end. While assisted living offers a safer version of home that makes comfort, hospitality, and independence a priority, with the increasingly complex medical needs of today’s aging adults, sometimes it may be difficult for a facility to keep up with your parent’s needs. This is why it’s so crucial to be an advocate for your aging parent, particularly if they have dementia or other memory issues that make it difficult for them to speak for themselves. 

Advocating for your loved one can seem overwhelming, particularly if you don’t live close to their assisted living property. We’ve put together a few helpful tips to help you navigate the maze of being an effective senior advocate.  

Meet with the care team before choosing a community 

Advocating for your parent begins before they even enter assisted living life. Before you ever choose a community, ask to sit down with the property’s care team if possible. This should include the Executive Director, Director of Nursing, Activities Director, Chef or Nutritionist, and the Director of Rehab. Ask plenty of questions and observe how the team speaks with you, your parent, and with each other: 

  • How do you prevent hospital visits that are unnecessary?
  • If my parent does need to go to the hospital, what will you do to ensure my parent has a safe re-entry into the facility when they are released?
  • Are there circumstances under which I’ll need to hire extra help in addition to the care included in your fee? If so, do you work with an agency or will I need to find the care on my own?
  • Who will be in charge of my loved one’s health?
  • What will you do to spot any health problems early?
  • How will potential issues be communicated to me?

Remember, you may need to interact with these individuals in the future on behalf of your parent, so if you’re not comfortable with the team, you may want to continue your search. 

Don’t be afraid to talk to the staff 

Many children feel shy about speaking up on behalf of their parent, but you shouldn’t be afraid to talk to the staff politely. While you probably shouldn’t approach the team over every minor complaint your parent has, addressing concerns that affect your parent’s well-being is essential. Some people make the mistake of being quiet because they don’t want to seem like a pain to the staff, but when your parent’s health and quality of life is at stake, you must be willing to speak up. 

Join the family and friends council 

If your loved one’s community has a family and friends council or a caregiver support group, join it. If not, talk to the director and find out if you can start one. Simply having one of these groups sends a message to assisted living staff that the family members care about their loved one’s quality of life and are paying attention to the care they’re receiving. A family and friends council may want to invite the director, dietary director, nurses, or other staff to come speak to the group. Being involved in such a group can be helpful if problems occur that need to be addressed, since facility staff may be more likely to pay attention to a group of people who speak up.

Visit your parent at different times unannounced 

Sometimes it may seem like things are going okay, but if you’re wondering how much care your loved one is really receiving, you can get a better idea of what’s going on by visiting unannounced at different times. Stop by the assisted living community on your way to work to see how things go in the morning. Take your parent to lunch one day. Visit during the evening hours. Not only will you get the chance to see how things are going at different times of day, but you’ll also send a message to staff that you’re there to advocate for your parent. Dropping by regularly also gives you the ability to build relationships with staff, which is vital as you work to ensure that your parent is getting the best possible care. 

Attend care plan meetings 

Community staff will have care plan meetings every few months. During these meetings, they review any behavior issues, how your parent is eating, any conditions or illnesses, whether they’re involved in activities, and whether there’s a need for a higher level of care. Ask to attend these meetings if possible. If you’re unable to participate in the care plan meetings, then ask for a follow-up by phone so you can get an update. 

Discuss your loved one’s end-of-life preferences 

As your parent’s advocate, you’ll play a crucial role in their end-of-life decisions, and it may fall to you to ensure their wishes are carried out. Talk to the community staff during a care plan meeting or at another appropriate time about your loved one’s preferences. It’s also important to make sure the facility has all relevant end-of-life paperwork on file, which may include a Living Will, Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order, Physician’s Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST), and Health Care Proxy. 

Learn how to advocate from afar 

What if you don’t live nearby and you’re unable to visit as often as you’d like? It’s a lot tougher to advocate from afar, but it is possible. A few tips that can help you stay in the loop so you’re able to continue supporting your parent include: 

  • Start with an in-person visit to the community and spend time establishing contacts with the staff.
  • Stay in touch with your parent regularly and ask how things are going.
  • Schedule regular calls with the care team to follow up.
  • Make in-person visits whenever you can.
  • Ask a friend or other relative to make impromptu visits whenever possible.
  • Consider hiring a professional like a geriatric case worker or eldercare manager to visit and report back to you.

Reach out if you think there’s neglect or abuse 

While no one wants to think about it, elder neglect and abuse do occur, and it’s crucial to know what to do if you suspect this is happening to your loved one. One of the best options is to contact your area’s long-term care ombudsman program. An ombudsman advocates for individuals residing in assisting communities and they offer confidential services free-of-charge. You can also turn to the National Center on Elder Abuse for helpful information and resources on how to combat elder neglect and abuse. Every state also has agencies that oversee assisted living facilities, and you can turn to your state agencies to file complaints as well.

This piece is part of our Healthy Aging Handbook, read the next one to learn more about helping aging parents: Making the Most of Technology in Assisted Living
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