Many who live in the Valley of the Sun enjoy an active, youthful lifestyle. But if you’re a caregiver for your parents or other aging loved ones, at some point you may need to find a doctor for your aging parent who specializes in senior care that can address their changing healthcare needs.

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Maybe mom’s doctor retired, or dad moved from another city to live in a warmer climate to be closer to you. Or if your parents’ health conditions change, such as progressive Alzheimer’s, they might need to see someone new for specialized care.

Finding the right doctor for those you care about may seem overwhelming with so many options for physicians and specialists. But here are five useful steps to help as you navigate this important decision.

1. Review your parents’ insurance plan

Dr. Lauren Maxham is the Phoenix Market Medical Director at ArchWell Health.

To get started, check your parent’s insurance plan to understand their coverage, their deductibles, and their co-pays.

Understanding Medicare can feel overwhelming. But there are many resources to help you and your loved one understand how to pay for their healthcare needs. Many adults over 65 enroll in traditional Medicare plans that include Medicare Part A coverage for hospital stays, and Medicare Part B coverage for doctor visits and other services. But many older adults select Medicare Advantage plan instead, known as Medicare Part C or an “MA” plan.

Medicare Advantage plans include Medicare Part A, Part B, and typically a prescription drug plan known as Part D. Medicare Advantage plans are offered by Medicare-approved private insurance companies who partner with Medicare to offer affordable health plans. You may even be able to select a plan with no premiums. You can learn more about Medicare Advantage here: Medicare Advantage 101

You should also find out if your loved one qualifies for Medicaid, which can work with their Medicare Advantage plan to help cover healthcare expenses and provide additional benefits such as lower prescription drug costs and transportation assistance.

Finally, if your parent has an employer health plan as part of their retirement package, you’ll want to review it to see how your parents can benefit from that coverage.

2. Talk with your parents about their health and wellness goals

Once you and your loved one understand their health plan coverage, it’s time to discuss their health and wellness goals. Sure, it’s a role reversal with you now caring for your parents. But you’re not alone and they rely on you to push them. For example, your parents may have concerns about cancer, heart disease or dementia. They may need help managing diabetes, depression or other health conditions. Have these discussions with them and make them feel ownership of their health.

Be an advocate for finding a provider that offers cancer screenings and other important preventive screenings to detect early heart disease, depression, diabetes, and more. The sooner these conditions are detected, the better the treatment options.

Parents are not accustomed to revealing their vulnerabilities to their children. But helping them stay socially engaged with others their age is important for wellness too. Loneliness and isolation can raise the risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease, according to the National Council on Aging.

Especially if your parents are new to Arizona, help them find a primary care practice here in the Valley, similar to ArchWell Health, that offers additional social and physical activities like exercise, chair yoga classes, and social learning activities like painting, board games, seminars, and painting and crafts.

3. Check into transportation assistance

As a caregiver for an aging parent, you may be driving them back and forth to doctor’s appointments and errands. No surprise, caregivers can often use an extra hand with this task, especially if they have full-time careers. Many health insurance plans offer transportation benefits for appointments that can be coordinated by your parent’s doctor’s office.

4. Consider a doctor who specializes in senior care

When choosing the doctor that’s right for your aging parents, consider a primary care provider that specializes in senior primary care, such as a geriatrician. Doctors and nurse practitioners can both specialize in geriatrics. They understand the specific needs of seniors and they should spend an adequate amount of time with your parents to truly get to know them and their concerns.

Providers that specialize in care for older adults can help your parent know what to expect as they age, recommend accommodations, and prepare them for changes that affect their body and cognitive abilities. These providers can:

  • Diagnose and treat medical conditions
  • Prescribe medications appropriate for seniors
  • Watch for medication side effects and adjust prescriptions when necessary
  • Refer your parents to specialists as needed
  • Discuss your parents’ daily functioning
  • Guide and counsel them through tough decisions that impact their independence such as when it’s time to stop driving or living alone
  • Help with end-of-life planning and advance directives

5. Meet with a social worker

Once you find the right doctor for your parents, meet with a social worker to discuss your parents’ social and behavioral needs. A social worker can help advocate for you and your parents by locating safe housing, food and nutrition assistance, mental health counseling, long-term care options, and much more. The social worker can provide a list of community resources right here in Arizona for you as a caregiver, and your parents too.

Author: Dr. Lauren Maxham is the Phoenix Market Medical Director at ArchWell Health.