Caregivers to elderly loved ones have doubtless learned how to manage multiple responsibilities. What should be done, though, when an elderly loved one has multiple medical conditions? How do caregivers determine which matters should receive priority when more than one health issue occurs at once? Here are some things to consider for providing the best care when a variety of conditions present themselves.
Knowledge is power
It is said that knowledge is power, and nowhere is this more true than in the arena of medical conditions. If an elderly loved one has multiple conditions, family members/caregivers need to know as much as possible about each one of them. This can assist in prioritizing which matters need immediate attention and which ones can be put aside for the moment when caregivers’ ability to provide care is limited.
It is important to know about the different treatment options available for each condition. This includes knowing how long each one may take to begin taking effect as well as any possible side effects involved. Particular attention should be paid as to which treatments may contraindicate others. Knowing these things about the different treatment options is crucial to successfully mapping out a course of treatment, in consultation with doctors, without putting an elderly loved one in the position of being unable to receive treatment for one condition because of treatment he or she is already receiving for a different one.
Communicate with healthcare professionals
Multiple diagnoses increase the complexity of treatment exponentially, and it is very conceivable that there may come a time when one condition must be treated at the expense of treating a different one. For that reason, honest discussions with any doctors involved is important, as well as and letting the doctor know what goals the elderly person and any family members involved in caregiving may have. For example, if an elderly person prefers length of life over the ability to operate with some level of independence, that should be taken into consideration when choosing treatment options. Seniors may like things the other way around too-a long life may not seem as valuable as an independent one. Such factors will often influence the course of treatment and serve to direct choosing among options for treatment of multiple health issues.
Caregivers’ feedback is important so that an elderly one’s doctor can track the efficacy of a given treatment. If something works well, family members/caregivers should let the doctor know this; likewise, if something doesn’t seem to be producing the hoped for results, the doctor should know this too. Good and timely information can make a huge difference when a doctor is experimenting with different treatment courses. Communication with healthcare professionals is paramount.
Keeping Things Simple
When it comes to medical treatments, the simpler they are, the better things usually work. This is especially true when seniors and their caregivers are juggling multiple treatments for different conditions. For this reason, treatments with the fewest possible side effects should be sought first; if one of them works, that will free up time and resources to devote to other treatments for other conditions. For example, if Condition 1 can be treated with alternatives to medication, then there will be no need to worry about possible side effects through drug interactions from medications needed for Condition 2. This makes everyone’s lives easier.
Making peace with the situation
Being a caregiver can be extremely stressful, and it can be easy to set the bar too high. If an elderly loved one has multiple diagnoses, family members and caregivers do well to remember that he or she may not ever return to perfect health. Sometimes “good enough” is going to have to suffice rather than “perfect”. Keeping this in mind can help alleviate some of the stress and even guilt that caregivers often experience as their elderly loved ones move into the final stages of their lives.
Being a caregiver is always a challenge, and when an elderly loved one has been diagnosed with multiple conditions, it is easy for family members/caregivers to become overwhelmed and feel helpless. However, caregivers and family members can assist the elderly one’s doctor in finding the best combination of treatments possible and know that their assistance is helping an elderly loved one continue to enjoy the best quality of life possible.
Learning about the various conditions an elderly one suffers from is important in assisting the doctor in finding effective treatments and establishing good communication. Finally, family members/caregivers need to accept that their best is all they can do. Making this concession can help keep stress in check as family members and caregivers work to attain the best care possible for a beloved elderly person.
Fried, T.R., Tinetti, M.D., Iannone, L. (January 10, 2011). Primary Care Clinicians’ Experiences with Treatment Decision Making for Older Persons with Multiple Conditions. Archives of Internal Medicine, 171(1):75-80. Available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3021478/. Retrieved July 13, 2016.
Tinetti, M. E., Fried, T. R., Boyd, C. (June 20, 2012). Designing Health Care for the Most Common Chronic Condition-Multimorbidity. JAMA, 307(23): 2493-2494. Available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4083627/. Retrieved July 13, 2016.
Wolff, J. L., Starfield, B., Anderson, G. (November 11, 2002). Prevalence, Expenditures, and Complications of Multiple Chronic Conditions in the Elderly. Archives of Internal Medicine, 162(20): 2269-2276. Available at http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=213908. Retrieved July 13, 2016.