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Caregivers Cannot Ask Doctors This Question

caregivers-cannot-ask-doctors-this-question-ccm081313I have talked in a lot of my postings about advanced directives and how we all need to prepare for the end of life crisis that will face us … and our family members.  If you are a caregiver, you should have had the talk with your senior loved ones about what care they want under a variety of life’s end game scenarios.  And hopefully your older loved one has placed in their physician’s file or medical chart at the hospital what they would want to happen were they were attached to a respirator or worse.  These are those quality of life decisions.

That said, you may still face all the questions we all will when we are addressing the mortality of a mother or father.  What would mom or dad want?  And that is the right question.  We all should know with some certainty before the time comes what mom or dad have expressed as their desires should help to avoid the tough decision of life support or end of life.  And the one person we really cannot ask is the physician.  As a geriatric care manager, I am involved in decisions like this with some frequency, but I always make it clear that my counsel is not based on what I would do in someone else’s place as much as it is about honoring the wishes of an older loved one.

So, the children of the older loved one can always ask about health care options.  What are the likely outcomes of whatever course of treatment and what alternatives does the family have are important conversations to have with your loved one’s provider. I recently read of a doctor who was asked by the children of an older patient consigned to the ventilator what he would do if in their situation.  Realistically we cannot ask the provider what he or she would do when facing and end of life decision for his or her parent.  That is their decision, and it should have been based upon conversations the doctor will have had along the way with the doctor’s parents.  It is not a medical decision; it is a personal decision.

So, the simple point is that if you are a caregiver to an older loved one, you should already have a good idea what the answer is to that kind of ultimate question is.  And if you do not have a clear answer, then it is time to restart the conversation.  Yes, it will seem awkward at first, but you may be surprised to find that your older loved one already has given this a lot of thought and likely has an answer to help prepare you and them.

Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago.  Please email your questions to


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