This article discusses the importance of sharing medical and other critical information with people and why you should get it from your aging parents and adult children, too.

When my mother had a massive stroke, I remember arriving in the emergency room and being asked a dozen questions about her medical history. My father was out of it, in shock, I think, and although my mother had been taken to the hospital she gone to for almost 40 years, they were still asking the standard questions. What medications is she on? What are their names, dosages, and frequencies? How long has she been taking this medication? What surgeries and illnesses has she had in the past and when? What types of medical conditions does she have? And I was clueless.

Like many adult children, I had inquired after my aging parents’ health in vague ways. And like so many parents of adult children, my parents always said, “Oh, we’re fine. Don’t worry about us, honey.” If either of them had a medical procedure or illness, my siblings and I would hear about it after the fact. They didn’t want to worry us. That strategy of keeping us in ignorant bliss didn’t pay off. I know that my parents intended good and there were equal parts of me that thought “Well, they’re my parents, so they know best what to tell me and what to do” and “I don’t know what I’d do if they said they were sick anyway and if I did, how would I convince them of what to do if they didn’t want to do it?”

The truth behind what truly prevented my parents and others out there like them from sharing this information with their children is two-fold. One, they just didn’t want to deal with the fact that they were aging and didn’t want to have to confront their own mortality. Two, they also didn’t want to admit that they might not be able to handle situations on their own as they occurred. Loss of independence is a common fear for people as they get older. Unfortunately, these fears and their desire to not have me worry ended up hurting them and me in the long run. I wonder if I had known more about my mother’s condition prior to the stroke whether it could have been prevented.

I have come to believe that no matter how old or young you are, no matter if you are single or married, with children or without, perfectly healthy or managing an illness or injury—somebody other than you better know important information about you and where to access it in an emergency.

Now, you’re either on one side of this equation or perhaps you’re even both ends of this situation. Your first task is to fully ensure your own well-being as much as possible. Make the appointment for that full medical exam, write that will, buy the insurance with long-term care options. Sit down with your significant others (don’t just tell one person-what if they are in the same car accident you are?) and let them know where the information is and what your wishes are. You never know when the emergency will happen and when it does, you won’t be able to tell anyone anything.

The next thing you should do is check in with your parents and/or your adult children and go through the same stuff. If they don’t want to include you in their plans, make sure that they share this information with someone they trust. Underline that their desire to decrease your concern is really just like burying one’s head in the sand. It’s the not knowing that is truly damaging in the end because you can’t do anything if it’s too late and if you don’t have the right information. A lot of people put off doing things like this because they think fear the information. The reality is that information is power and keeping yourself ignorant only removes choices and your ability to respond.

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