Avoiding conflict when helping seniors at doctor’s appointments

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Accompanying your older adult to their doctor’s appointments is important, but can be a tough challenge.

While you’re there, you might disagree on what to discuss, they might lie about their symptoms, or they may refuse to discuss sensitive topics.

It can also be tough to find the right balance between letting them speak for themselves and stepping in to bring up important topics or clarify key facts.

But even though you might not want to “take over,” your older adult might need help asking the right questions or understanding instructions.

Or, they may need a strong advocate if the doctor isn’t giving them the attention they deserve or asks them to make big decisions without explaining the risks.

This was originally published by our friends at Daily Caring.

Before the doctor’s visit

Before the doctor’s appointment, preparing in advance sets the stage for success.

Try to schedule the appointment for times that work best for both your older adult and you – when they have the most energy and when you’re able to set aside enough time.

Gather essential information
Make sure to gather information the doctor will need to review, especially:

  • Information from visits with other doctors and specialists
  • List of all prescription medication, over-the-counter medication, vitamins, and supplements

Agree on what to discuss and how to do it
Because there are two people involved in the visit, it’s important to make sure you’re in agreement on what concerns to bring up and how they will be discussed.

For example, you might both agree to discuss their recent swallowing problems, but they refuse to discuss your concerns about their driving and judgement. They might also have concerns about incontinence symptoms, but don’t want to talk about it in front of you.

What might work best is to discuss the top 1 or 2 agreed-upon issues together with the doctor. Then, let your older adult know that you’ll step out so they can privately discuss sensitive issues.

When you need to talk with the doctor about issues that your older adult refuses to discuss, it might be best to do it alone before or after the visit.

For example, your older adult might get angry, defensive, or lie if you bring up driving problems or potential cognitive issues.

Many doctors are willing to schedule a phone call to talk privately. If that’s the case, be mindful of their limited time and stick to only the issues that you can’t discuss when your older adult is present.

Agree on how you’ll help
Before the appointment, it helps to talk with your older adult to find out how they’d like you to help.

They might want you to stay in the waiting room or come into the exam room for part or all of the visit.

In the exam room, they may want you to only take notes or to remind them of the key issues to discuss. You could make sure that important information, like new medication, is clear.

Discussing this ahead of time helps your older adult relax because they’ll know that you won’t be “taking over” without their consent.

Of course, if your older adult has significant cognitive impairment or isn’t able to communicate, you’ll naturally be taking a more active role.

During the doctor’s visit

During the appointment, let the doctor know that you will both be participating in the visit.

When possible, allow your older adult to answer questions and speak for themselves. But if there’s a situation where they need help, you may need to speak up.

For example, if the doctor hasn’t given enough information, but is asking them to make a decision, step in and ask them to clarify. 

Or, maybe something the doctor has said is conflicting with something a different specialist has said – let them know and ask them to explain the differences.

And if the doctor has asked you to perform a new care task, like taking care of a wound, make sure that you clearly understand how to do it.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, watch a demonstration, or request training.

After the doctor’s visit

After the appointment, it’s often helpful to chat about how it went. You can find out if they thought it was a good visit – why or why not?

Specifically, you could ask if they felt you asked the right amount of questions, if they wanted alone time with the doctor, or if there was something they wished had happened differently.

What to do if there are conflicts

There might be times when you and your older adult simply won’t agree on important issues. If that happens, try the following:

  • Ask a trusted family member or close friend to accompany your older adult to the doctor and then let you know what happened
  • Schedule a phone call with the doctor or nurse to get the information you need, rather than argue with your older adult about it
  • Ask the doctor or nurse if they can refer you to someone who could help resolve these disagreements, like a counsellor
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