Have a signed Health Care Power of Attorney (POA) form. (Always have a copy accessible to you (home, car, purse, family member’s refrigerator). Even if you have given this document to a hospital before, you will need to give it again.)
Ask a lot of questions! Remember that there are no stupid questions!
Take notes. You might feel silly at the time, but it will help you remember what was said.
Ask if the facility has a geriatric psychiatrist. Psychiatrists who work with “adults” cover patients age 18-100. Dr’s focused in geriatric care have a better understanding of issues relating to the elderly.
If your family member is in a nursing home, it is their right to have you present during the evaluation.
Talk to the psychiatrist before the evaluation to share insights on family history and dynamics as well as personality quirks.
If something doesn’t seem right during the evaluation or treatment process, ask questions. If you still don’t feel comfortable and are concerned for their well-being, it is your right as POA to have them transferred to a different facility.
Unless it’s an urgent situation, ALWAYS get a second opinion before starting any type of treatment or psychiatric medications.
Educate yourself. Find seminars, research on the internet or find books on the subject.
Don’t count on the doctor alone to monitor medication and reactions! You know them the best so you need to be monitoring medications. If this is not one of your strong suits then hire a home health agency or Geriatric Care Manager to do it. This is crucial as many psychotropic medications can cause lethargy or have dangerous side effects if not monitored.
If your family member is at home and begins to talk about killing themselves, don’t dismiss it—call 911. The elderly have the highest completion rate for suicide. They have the means to follow through, especially men. It may seem extreme, but imagine if you didn’t react and they did follow through.
It is your right to decline medication, treatments, and programs on behalf of your family member if they are not able to make those decisions. Be informed about what you are doing and why you are doing it, before you do it.
Don’t be embarrassed by erratic behavior or by a psychiatric diagnosis. You’re doing the right thing by getting them help!
Be an advocate! Mental illness is not anyone’s fault; it is a disease, just as cancer is a disease, and you don’t need to be embarrassed about it.
*If this information doesn’t currently apply to you be pro-active about locating the closest geriatric unit for mental health (then hope you never need it).
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