Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Advocating for Your Aging Parent at the Doctor's--Part One

Your aging parent may need your help at the doctor's office. When do you start accompanying him or her on visits, and how do you work together with the physician?

First the when: If your parent wants you to go, the question is settled! But why is your presence so vital?

Seniors place physicians on pedestals, right next to God. In many elders' eyes, doctors are the keepers of the ultimate truth about the most important thing in life: their health. Ironically, that reverence for medical professionals often keeps seniors from telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Especially about such things as incontinence, memory loss, falls and forgetting to take medications. An answer of "pretty good," to a question about taking medications, may really mean, "I take it once a month, whether I need it or not."

Second, at the visit, a doctor sees and hears at most, a 10 to 15-minute "video clip." You, on the other hand, have been observing your parent's actions and feelings over time. The comings and goings. The waxings and wanings. Your perspective is extremely value. For example, if your parent is losing short-term memory but is socially appropriate, the doctor may miss the same repeated question or phrase you hear every hour or so. So speak up and say, "I've been noticing ..."

Third, two heads are better than one. If your parent's doctor slips into "Medicalese" or explains complex information too quickly, your parent may miss out. You, as a Boomer, know when to say, "I think we don't quite understand that; could you explain it again." You can also summarize your understanding of the doctor's words--"So if I'm right, you're saying we should do..." Taking notes will also help.

In another post, I'll tackle some "how's" of effective advocacy at the doctor's office.

Have you and your parent's physician worked together well on behalf of your parent? Tell us how.

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