Seniors: Doctor Appointment “Dress Rehearsal”

Seniors generally take one of two approaches to doctor’s appointments.  They either talk too much or say too little.  If you are a caregiver for a senior, you can greatly help with the usefulness of the appointment if you act as a coach.

For those who like to share too much, it may be helpful to guide your loved-one in making the most of the limited time a doctor has.  By preparing for the appointment and narrowing the points to the three or four most important, this can be accomplished. You can share this short list with the doctor at the beginning of the appointment and let him or her establish the priorities and allocate the time. Then, if time allows, other questions or issues can be addressed.

As a caregiver, having a meaningful conversation about your loved-one’s health allows you to gain insight into how they feel physically and emotionally.  Doing so will allow you to become a partner in the patient’s medical care and establish a foundation of trust.

This article suggests a structure for planning for a medical visit in which you, as caregiver, may participate with the senior for whom you have responsibility.

Symptoms

In the time allotted for a medical check-up, a doctor needs to gather as much information as he or she can as quickly as possible to accomplish an efficient and professional session.  As a caregiver, by doing an interview with the patient before arriving at the office, this “dress rehearsal” will help the process significantly.  It will allow you to guide the conversation and, as stated above, establish an agenda.  While a physical exam and medical tests will provide the doctor with factual information, context from the patient, with you assisting, will point the doctor in the right direction.

The easiest way to accomplish this is to focus on symptoms.  This may include localized pain, fever, lumps, changes in weight or sleep issues.  Encourage your senior to be as succinct as possible.  If you understand the issues, you may assist during the appointment to further articulate what you understand the issue to be – without disrespecting the patient’s efforts to self-describe the situation.

In preparing for the appointment, ask your loved-one some of the following questions to be able to help him or her summarize them for the doctor.  This also avoids the possibility of the senior resorting to “I’m fine” when the doctor asks about how the patient feels if he or she does not remember in the pressure of the office setting.

  • Describe your symptoms.
  • When did they start?
  • Do you experience them all of the time or just some of the time? When?
  • How frequently do you experience them?
  • What do you do to alleviate these symptoms when they occur?
  • How do these symptoms impact your life? What can you not do when they occur?

It is likely the doctor will ask similar questions during the appointment.  Having practiced the questions in advance will make the session more productive.

Medications

Since many seniors experience a variety of ailments, they may see a variety of specialists.  While electronic medical records have greatly assisted in cross-communication, it is still incumbent on the patient or caregiver to be able to provide a complete list of medications (both prescribed and over-the-counter) to the doctor you are visiting.  Be sure to include herbal remedies or supplements, too.

Daily Routines

To best understand a senior’s medical situation, the doctor will want to know what your loved-one does in their daily routine.  Knowing things like their living situation, eating habits, sleep routines and smoking and drinking habits will provide a broader view of the individual the doctor is treating.  Encouraging open and honest communication will help significantly and, without overreaching, providing gentle reminder hints when necessary.  As a caregiver, however well meaning, answering for the patient who is capable of answering on his or her own could be viewed as an uncomfortable intrusion.

Honesty

While it is tempting to say what you think the doctor wants to hear, it is not in the patient’s best interest to do so.  Presenting living patterns that makes it look like the patient smokes less or eats more healthful meals than they really do is not helpful.  The doctor does his or her best work if dealing with true facts.

Ask Questions

On behalf of your loved one, it is entirely appropriate to ask the doctor questions about a procedure or medication the doctor has proposed.  Here is where it is easier for the caregiver to ask challenging questions rather than the patient who may be reluctant to challenge “authority”.

The previous article in this series XXX covers these types of questions should you be interested in a more in-depth discussion of them.

The Role of the Caregiver

As suggested above the role of the caregiver should be that of coach, not parent.  Allowing the patient to provide his or her own answers to the doctors questions will allow for a greater dignity to the process.  The caregiver’s role is most effective when preparing for the office visit with a “dress rehearsal” in private.

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