Your caregiving journey may not begin because of a gradual decline in your parent’s physical or mental health. Instead, it can start suddenly — in the blink of an eye — a car accident, a stroke, a heart attack or another medical emergency.
The more information you can give to the EMTs and emergency room doctors, the faster they can provide the right kind of care for your parent. Without that information, doctors might only be guessing about what care would be most appropriate.
Everyone — including you — should have an up-to-date written copy of their complete health history that includes:
- their major illnesses, hospitalizations and medical conditions;
- the medications they take (prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs such as aspirin, antacids, herbal remedies, nutritional supplements — even daily multi-vitamins);
- all food and medication allergies; and
- the names, phone numbers and addresses of their doctors and pharmacy.
They should take a copy with them every time they go to a doctor, the emergency room, are admitted into a hospital, or visit any other type of medical facility.
Talking to your parent about their health can be far easier said than done. Expressing your concerns is certainly one way to start. But, be careful to express your concerns in a way that does not patronize or embarrass your parent. Above all, don’t use phrases like “You need to …” or “I need you to …” or “You have to …”.
If you feel that you can’t ask your parent directly, try an indirect approach, something like:
“When I was in to see my doctor [a few days ago] [last month], he asked me some questions about my family health history that I didn’t have the answers for. Do you have a few minutes to talk about it?”
At this point, be prepared for some push-back (resistance), such as:
“If this is so darned important, why haven’t you done anything about it for yourself?”
If that happens, you’ll need to show just how important you believe this information is. The best way is to prepare your own health history before you ask your parent to do theirs. (Every time I take mine in for a doctor’s appointment, they say, “I wish all of my patients did this.”) Simply said, it helps them help you. It also helps prevent medical errors. (Plus, instead of filling out all of the same details over and over again on doctors’ forms, it’s so nice to be able to write in “See Attached” instead of getting writer’s cramps.)
After checking out several online resources, I highly recommend Microsoft’s HealthVault. It’s free, and you can use it with a desktop or laptop computer. Set up an account and sign up at https://www.healthvault.com/us/en. After you’ve finished, print out a copy to take along on your next visit to your doctor.
HealthVault is also available as a free app for tablets and smart phones. For Apple devices, go to the iTunes store and download it for free. For Android and Microsoft devices, after you sign up, go to the App & Device Directory inside HealthVault, click on Mobile/Tablet and pick your operating system for your free download.
After you set up an account and sign in using a desktop or laptop, you’ll see your initial screen (The upper left section of my screen is below.).
When you finish your own health history, click on Add a person to create a health history for your parent.
Notes: If both of your parents are living, create a health history for each one. You might also want to use Add a person to create health histories for your spouse and each of your children still living with you.
When these are finished, go to the lower right part of the page that looks like this:
One of the nicest features about HealthVault is that after you’ve set up your account, you can view and update your information on any device. And, the information you enter is automatically updated across all of your devices.
Caution: Don’t share your parent’s information with your siblings, unless your parent gives you their explicit permission. Otherwise, you’d violate your parent’s confidential disclosure to you and risk shutting off any further discussions of the matter.