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Advocacy and Health for Aging Adults By Michelle Danage-Sanders

On December 31, 2020, my mom calls us kids to wish everyone a Happy New Year. Yes, we were getting rid of a challenging year because of COVID-19. It was time to set new goals, work on our bucket list, and enjoy family.

On January 1, everything started to change for our family. My mom began to feel bad, and from there, everything we thought about the new year went down the drain. On January 7, she was hospitalized two days before her birthday. Throughout January, she was in and out of the hospital a total of three times. After going through an emergency procedure on February 5, Mom was strong enough to be released from the hospital.

I tell you this because aging parents going through a life-changing experience is hard on everyone. Our family, who had not experienced the possibility of a parent not pulling through, was scary. Now, our role changed to caregivers who work and have children and grandchildren. I learned on this new journey that we, the Afro-American community, need to know how to advocate for our loved ones. You need to understand how to address the hospital staff about the care they give your family member.

When in the hospital, ask questions about the medications they administer and question procedures they deem necessary. Know the why. Introduce yourself to the nursing staff and hospitalist on duty. Unless it is an emergency, they should contact the primary caregiver before making changes to medications or if there have been changes to the family member’s health. Educate yourself, ask many questions about the care of your loved one. What are their needs for the road to wellness? Mainly, be there daily and check-in, keep a presence, and always have two contacts.

The primary and secondary persons should be aware of decisions made about the family member’s care. We started a family care book; I take one to all doctor visits and then one we kept while mom rehabbed. When home health nurses would come, they could see my mom’s progress and review notes, and answer questions about how my moms’ recovery was going. I kept a notebook in my purse each time I went to the hospital. I noted all my visits with my mom and nurse/doctor updates. With COVID-19 restrictions, only one person could visit, and decisions are made as a family; the notes come in handy. With technology, we could video chat with mom on good days and kept her spirits up to speak with other family members. We appreciate the many calls and prayers from everyone, which kept us uplifted and encouraged my mom as she began to recover mentally and physically.

Advocate for older adults always when hospitalized, in nursing homes, or assisted living care. Be there to make sure they receive the attention they need.