Patient Advocacy for Seniors

patient advocacy

We were thrilled to see so many of you last week at our webinar: “Patient Advocacy for Older Adults and their Loved Ones.” (And for more info on our upcoming webinars, click here.) In case you missed it or need a recap, here are is our best advice for advocating for yourself or an elderly loved one in a healthcare or caregiving setting:

Advocacy starts before you need it.

Have you ever been with a Senior at a doctor’s appointment when they are struggling to remember an aspect of their health history that the physician has asked them? Or has your Senior ever been in an emergency situation and you realize in retrospect that things would have been handled differently if the first responders had more information about your loved one? When you and your Senior are prepared with their health and personal information, it facilitates their ability to get the care they need, as soon as they need it. This includes knowing what your Senior’s wishes are for care! Check out our guide here for preparing emergency documentation.

Lots of factors impact the care you receive

It can be frustrating to wait for answers to a Senior’s healthcare questions, or to feel that their care providers aren’t listening to your loved one’s concerns. When even something as simple as getting an extra blanket in the hospital takes a long time, it can exacerbate feeling like care providers don’t actually care. It’s important to know that the care your Senior receives in any setting is impacted by a lot of factors, many of which are outside the control of the individuals actually providing the care. The nurse at the SNF is burdened by short-staffing issues, the physician at the emergency department is busy stopping another patient’s internal bleeding while your Senior waits for their broken wrist to be casted, and the non-medical caregiver is saddened by a difficult moment with the client they had right before they visited your loved one. We can’t control the factors of time and money in the healthcare industry, but we can do our best to have patience and understanding.

There are also lots of factors that impact your Senior’s ability to advocate

No matter our age, physical condition, or cognitive condition, advocating for ourselves, even with the support of loved ones, can be tough! Older adults often experience sensory changes, such as vision or hearing loss, that can make it difficult to communicate. Being in less-familiar environments with novel stimuli takes up cognitive resources that we would otherwise be using for advocacy. And the myriad of emotions we feel in a challenging health or care situation can color how we approach advocacy. Take note of how you and your Senior are approaching a situation where you need to advocate, and modify what you can to help be successful.

Different care settings have different goals

Every health or care setting has different goals of care. For example, while the emergency department and a primary care clinic both staff physicians, the emergency department is not the place to seek guidance on long-term diabetes management (that would be a primary care clinic). So if you feel like your Senior’s health or care needs are not being met where they are, take note of if those needs are representative of the goals of care in that setting. If not, you may need to wait until your Senior transfers settings, or adjust your expectations to more closely match the level of care your Senior is currently receiving. If you aren’t sure what the goals of care are, ask!

Advocacy includes the following tangible actions:

Ask questions. Write down your or your Senior’s healthcare questions as they come to you so you are ready when the time comes to speak to a provider. No question is too small or too “silly.” Be as specific and measurable as possible with your questions.

Document everything. Write down or obtain written documentation of what care providers tell you, including care updates, changes to care, and instructions on what you or your Senior need to do moving forward. Review your notes with your Senior’s provider to ensure you understand them correctly.

Enlist help. Advocacy is something that benefits from a team approach. Help your Senior identify what friends or family members are able and willing to support them with self-advocacy. For professional healthcare and caregiving advocacy, locate an Aging Life Care Professional® (geriatric care manager) near your Senior.


For more information, we recommend checking out this TED talk on patient advocacy by Molly Hottle, healthcare strategic communication specialist. You can also download our handout, “5 Important Things about Self-Advocacy.” And if you want to learn more about geriatric care services for professional boots-on-the-ground advocacy, reach out today to get started.