As a family caregiver for your aging loved one, you probably play many roles. Some days you’re a chauffeur, driving your mom to her doctor appointment. Other days you’re a financial adviser, making sure your dad’s bills are paid on time.
The most important role you play is that of advocate, says Bianca Syriac, marketing director at the Ivy at Ellington.
What Is a Senior Advocate?
When Syriac talks about being an advocate for your aging parents, she’s talking about supporting and looking out for your loved one’s best interests as they are provided care in the medical system and their home.
As your parents’ advocate, you:
- Understand their wishes for care and quality of life and make sure they're adhered to
- Help them manage finances and legal matters
- Make certain they receive appropriate and high-quality services and treatments when they need them
- Serve as their voice when they are unable to advocate for themselves
Essentially, you come alongside your loved one to help them navigate medical care, the medical system, and long-term care resources.
How Do You Advocate During the Search for Assisted Living?
As an advocate for your parents, you want to ensure the best life possible for them as they age, which requires starting the search sooner rather than later.
“The earlier the better, just so you know what’s out there,” Syriac says. “There are even benefits to moving into assisted living before you have to — creating a new routine, making new friends, aging in place. Have the move happen when it’s easier to move. That way, your loved one can begin to be active and really get to take advantage of everything the community has to offer.”
Unfortunately, many families don’t start exploring their options until they are overwhelmed by care responsibilities or there is a crisis, Then, they’re stuck with wherever a bed is available — whether it’s the right fit for their loved one or not.
“If you do the research ahead of time, it makes those crisis situations easier because you’re already aware of who's out there and what kind of services they provide,” Syriac says.
Here are three ways you can advocate for your parents as you search for the assisted living community that will best meet their needs.
1. Pay Attention
“As their advocate, you need to know what their day-to-day life is like, that way you can make sure the day-to-day life at the assisted living communities you’re looking at fits their lifestyle,” Syriac says.
As you search for the right assisted living community, be honest about your loved one’s abilities, health, moods, safety needs, and desires. “When you’re honest with assisted living providers, then we’re better fit to help you.”
Take notes of small shifts in your loved one’s behaviors over time so you can find the assisted living community that best fits their needs and lifestyle.
2. Get Organized
“Sometimes loved ones aren't able to make care decisions, so as their advocate, making sure they have a power of attorney in place is extremely important,” Syriac says.
If your parents haven’t made these arrangements, ask them who they'd like to take the lead on decision-making if the unexpected happens. It's important to let them know that you will respect their wishes and support their choices so you can have an honest discussion.
As your parents’ advocate, it is critical that you are comfortable communicating with those who help care for your loved ones, from siblings and friends to doctors and lawyers. For example, if you’re searching for assisted living communities, Syriac suggests asking your circle for recommendations.
“You can read reviews online, but word of mouth is a powerful tool,” she says. “Ask friends and family about their experiences. Even ask your physician or your parents’ physician. They usually know what places have more strengths than weaknesses.”
For families who are in the midst of the search for an assisted living facility for their loved one, Syriac says to go with your gut.
“You really want to make the best move for your family member, whether it be the Ivy or not,” she says. “Do what’s best for your family member. You’re their biggest advocate.”