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Can I Help My Elderly Mom when She’s Near End of Life?

If you have an aging loved one in your life, odds are that they have some chronic medical conditions. Heart disease, high blood pressure, respiratory disease and other common issues add trips to the doctor, who can make referrals to specialists. Each specialist focuses on their area of expertise and prescribes medications to treat what they see, but after some time, your aging parent is taking a dozen or more pills a day, sometimes three or four times a day.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Aging Parents And The Problem With Doctors” explains that the problem is even more significant as medical research increases specialized understanding of treatment of various diseases. There are more drugs on the market prescribed by highly knowledgeable specialists. However, these specialists don’t communicate with each other. Few specialists look at the aging person’s overall health conditions in combination and most importantly, no one is considering the elder’s quality of life.

The exception to this trend is the aging adult specialist known as a geriatrician. This is a doctor who specializes in caring for aging patients from a holistic perspective.

A big issue is how long you want an aging parent with something very difficult, such as advanced dementia, to live with becoming less and less able to function. A doctor can treat their heart disease, asthma and high blood pressure, or you can choose to refrain from treating those things and concentrate all efforts on pain relief if they’re in pain and keep the patient comfortable and in a dignified state.

There’s no requirement to live as long as possible with poor quality of life, inability to communicate and inability to perform any daily function independently. When we do our estate planning and have the lawyer prepare the Advanced Healthcare Directive, we say we don’t want to be kept alive by “artificial means” or futile treatment. However, there are exceptions. Some want everything done, regardless of the benefit, as long as they’re still breathing.

However, for most, the idea of aggressive medical interventions when we’re near death doesn’t make sense. Multiple medications for someone who can no longer enjoy life at all due to disease is indeed being kept going by “artificial means.” However, treating pain is quite different from trying to change the course of where nature is leading us.

If you have an aging parent with multiple chronic conditions, especially advanced dementia, ask yourself how long you want to watch that loved one’s quality of life disappear. When the person can’t speak, can’t recognize anyone and can’t even feed himself or walk, what quality does that person have, if any?

Therefore, some decisions will need to be made about all those medications. When you, along with at least one caring physician, decide to withdraw all medications except pain and comfort meds, and allow nature to take its course, you’re acting in the best interests of your loved one, assuming that they don’t want to be forced to stay alive by artificial means.

Here’s how to start:

  1. Visit and make a list of everything your aging parent is taking every day, including prescriptions and over the counter remedies.
  2. With appropriate permission (Healthcare Directive or “HIPAA Release”), make an appointment with a reliable and accessible physician to review the medication list to determine the necessity of each drug.
  3. Advocate for your aging parent. Quality of life is a very important consideration, which seems to be neglected by many medication-prescribing specialists. That’s because they’re focused on their own specialty, rather than the patient’s care and quality of life living with so many progressive diseases that only get worse.

Reference: Forbes (April 15, 2022) “Aging Parents And The Problem With Doctors”

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