Wednesday, August 1, 2012

if i’d known then…

 This is more stuff about looking after older people, which will only be of interest to those who have an interest in the matter.

There are things I didn’t know til it was too late, and they became a nuisance. There were things that weren’t a nuisance but could have been.

For years I begged my mother and stepfather to open accounts with a different bank so they would have two bankers. What if their preferred bank closed its local branch? What if it went broke? What if the service got even crappier [inconceivable]?

What about a credit card each? They wouldn’t have to become credit junkies, but if they were caught somewhere and had exceeded the daily withdrawal limit with their only bank account, a credit card might be handy. What if something happened to one of them? “Never put all yer egg zin one barsket”, I said.

Sure enough, my stepfather died and, quite predictably, the bank froze the joint account pending probate/ completion of all the will-related stuff. My mother had to pay a solicitor to write to the bank and tell them to release some funds for her to live on while it was being sorted. As if she wasn't already beside herself with stress and grief.

Thankfully, M and SF trusted my bros and I enough to give us power of attorney, to be used jointly or separately. The wording is fairly broad:
“I authorise my attorney to do on my behalf anything that I may lawfully authorise an attorney to do.”

Well, one thing I can’t do is open a bank account in my mother’s name at a different bank. Big nuisance, and the online banking security of her one banker is a joke.


Another thing I learned is never to leave home without a certified copy of the p/a. No matter how many times an organisation copies or scans an important document, it will disappear.

A p/a is useless when dealing with anyone by phone.

People who answer phones for various organisations are given stupid rules to work by. They are not stupid in intent, because it is important to protect a client’s/ customer’s interests and privacy.
But what I have learned is that when I ring anyone on behalf of any old I have to pretend to be them. 

The phone person cannot see me or see any ID that might prove I am the person named on the p/a, but if I say “My name is [insert name of old] and I would like to…” they assume I must be that person.
I can do anything over the phone if I pretend to be someone, but if I start by saying I am ringing on behalf of someone else they will say “give them the phone I need to talk to them personally”.
The response “Well, right now she is spinning on her back with her legs in the air, making a noise like a Louie the Fly that has just ingested two cans of insecticide: She’s indisposed” will not evoke any sympathy, understanding or flexibility.

Always have D.O.B. handy, and other secrets like the maiden name of the older person’s second husband’s first wife’s third pet


As advised above, the following statement appears on a p/a.
“I authorise my attorney to do on my behalf anything that I may lawfully authorise an attorney to do.”

In Victoria [no idea about other states] this does NOT provide authority to comment on, initiate or make decisions about proposals relating to [the old’s] health. For this, one needs a medical power of attorney.

My mother happily lived for a year or so in a hostel in a small town, until one day she had a fall. As her bones were [and still are] like damp talcum powder, [fags, grog and lack of weight bearing exercise will do that to bones] the fall resulted in an absolutely horrific fracture that was never going to heal. She grew so frail within ten minutes of the fall that she didn’t even have the strength to write her name.
It was time to move her to a nursing home.

The nursing home admittance interview took about 4 hours [NO exaggeration]. They were well organised, there were a million forms [okay, an exaggeration]. It was comprehensive and sensible.
The one thing they required which I’d never heard of was a medical p/a.

Fortunately, mother had used the same solicitor for years, so we all have that small town thing where I could simply ring up, have a chat and organise one. They walked two blocks to the hostel in time to do the deed – while mother was on the gurney and about to be put in a patient transport vehicle and driven 60 kilometres to the nursing home. Phew.

Not long after that, The Other and her sister organised a medical p/a for their mother.


Most pharmacies offer a pill packing service. Leave the scripts with them and they will make up one week blister packs with the right pills in each compartment for breakfast, lunch, dinner and bed time.

These packs are probably prepared by humans, because the first pharmacy made some tragic bungles with half a dozen packs over the course of 6 months. When we moved to Melbourne the next pharmacy was just as bad.

Luckily my mother’s brain was still working well, and she always picked up the errors. Eventually we decided to buy some dosette boxes, and mother pre-sorted and counted her own pills. It was good occupational therapy.

Unfortunately, to make up these dosettes, the pills had to be removed from their original packaging.
Hospitals, hostels and nursing homes all refuse to use pills not in their original packaging. This is very practical, and mother’s nursing home has a fairly fool proof system for not only preventing mistakes but highlighting slip-ups should they happen.

At least making up her own dosettes meant that before she went into a nursing home, mother had custody of her own scripts, which were often handy to have in an emergency.


Where the well-organised people at the nursing home were mistaken was with respect to voting. It was suggested to me that voting was a nightmare for people who can't move, I could remove her name from electoral rolls if I wished, but people over 70 won't get fined if they don't vote anyway so there was no need to do anything. Not so.

The law relating to voting in federal elections is different from the law relating to state elections [in Victoria, anyway].
The only way to remove her name from the rolls would be a letter from a doctor who knows her well and can explain why her name should be removed. 
Mother is very jealous of her right to vote, and fair enough. What we were able to do was organise for the electoral commission to automatically ensure she received ballot papers by mail in plenty of time to vote.



  1. Good to have scanned documents to deal with some of this. "I can email it to you" produces good results. I store such things in my Gmail account for handy "any where there is an internet connection" access.

    1. I've no idea if I have a GMail a/c and don't carry a laptop with me, however, scanning is a good idea which could make it far easier to deal with people by phone.
      Done, with thanks.

  2. Interesting and noted and there were a couple of things I wasn't aware of.

    1. Thanks for the feedback - it is a constant minefield, so I'm more than happy to put ideas out there - including those from Big Dog and diane b!

  3. I remember going through a lot of those situations when my mother got dementia. I didn't have any problems with her bank. They accepted my p/a and I withdrew her balance when she died without telling them. I don't remember anything about a medical p/a I think it was all included in the original p/a. However my biggest problem was selling her apartment at the retirement village when she had to go into a nursing home. The Lands Dept or whatever they call it these days do not accept an ordinary p/a for the sale of property,. Apparently the p/a has to be registered with the dept by the owner. Therefore I had to coach my Mum in how to sign the papers of sale. She was also a bit suspicious of people especially me and I wasn't sure if she would comply. Luckily the retirement home people were very helpful and understanding. I had my heart in my mouth on the day of the signing but luckily she did as she was asked and could just manage to remember how to write her name. It was a nightmare.

    1. [please don't tell anyone, but I can copy anything except type or rubber stamps.]

      It must have been incredibly draining for you. One might suggest lawyers should provide more info at the same time they provide the p/a, but of course laws are made to be tweaked, and do change constantly.

      But your Lands Dept dilemma raises an interesting question about Vic. Not an issue for me, though, as mother handed her house over to me and bros years ago. [VERY trusting and brave of her!]

  4. IT all sounds extremely stressful. I dread dealing with these things...someday.

    The medication thing is very worrisome.

    1. It can be worrisome. I don't know how things work in the US.

      There are two ways of looking at all of this. The first is to believe it's bad luck to talk about it. The other way is to believe that if it's all sorted and you are prepared, it won't happen at all.

      Spitting over my left shoulder at the devil, may I hint that if you and Tim sort out you and Tim, it might open the topic for discussion by your parents.