Q. My mother has some hearing and memory loss, so I think it’s important that I or one of my siblings accompany her on her doctor appointments. Yet, because of my mother’s desire for privacy and independence, we always are relegated to the waiting room and her physician is not permitted to talk with us about her care. What can we do to convince her that we’re on her side and only want to help with her healthcare needs?
Cindy D., New York, New York
A: I agree with you that it is can be very helpful, and in some cases essential, to accompany your parent, to a doctor’s appointment. This can be true even for a spouse or a friend who, at the time of an office visit, is feeling “fine, thank you” and can’t recall having experienced the very pain or discomfort that they’ve been complaining about. So they minimize the very problem for which they are seeking help.
When you add memory or hearing impairment to the equation, as is often the case for seniors, details about diagnosis, follow-up lab work or dosing instructions for prescription medicines can be misunderstood or quickly forgotten unless someone is taking notes.
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Accompanying your mother to a doctor’s visit also will enable you to establish a rapport with her physician, who will see first-hand that family members are involved in your mother’s care. You’ll also have an opportunity to see how thorough and caring her doctor is. Is he or she doing all the talking? Rushing through the appointment? Treating her with respect? It’s important to know if her physician is still a good fit for your mother’s changing heath needs.
So how do you pave the way for this first joint appointment? Here are three suggestions:
▪ Talk to your mother about her doctor visit ahead of time. Keep a running list of questions that come up over time so she remembers to ask about them during her visit. That will ensure that your mother — not you — is doing all the talking.
▪ Let your mother know that you will be the designated note-taker. That is an appropriate supporting role to play in this situation and she will appreciate your taking a “back seat” during her time with her physician. If you see the need for clarification, or you have questions of your own, ask your mother for permission to interrupt.
▪ Following the appointment, review your notes with your mother and discuss her physician’s diagnosis or opinions. Make a new list of any follow-up that’s required and make sure that your mother has noted the date of her next appointment on her calendar. If there are prescriptions to fill, you can take care of that errand before you drive her home. If she was instructed to let the doctor know how she is doing on new medication, make a note of that date in your own calendar so you can remind your mother.
By the way, I always recommend talking to the pharmacist when picking up a new prescription. Often, doctors don’t have the time to explain when (time of day) and how (with food or without) to take medicines as well as what kind of possible side effects to be aware of. The pharmacist can also double-check to make sure that there’s no possibility of detrimental interactions with other medicines your mother may be taking.
I predict that after just a few office visits your mother will feel more comfortable with you by her side and she will agree in writing, using a designated HIPAA privacy form that you can get at her doctor’s office, that will allow him or her to talk with you about her health care needs when necessary. As a family caregiver, this is an important step to take and one that often needs time to build up to.
Nancy Stein, Ph.D., is the founder of SeniorityMatters.com, a local caregiver advisory and referral service for South Florida seniors and their families. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.