Helping your senior get the most from visits to the doctor

By Valerie
July 8, 2010


Raise your hand if taking your aging loved one to his or her physician causes a great deal of stress?

Raise your other hand if your frustration levels skyrocket when your Mom can’t remember what her doctor said about her test results or what new medication she is taking for her high blood pressure. Stick your foot out if you walk away from a health care appointment not understanding what the specialist told you during an office visit.

Generally speaking, parents who lived during the world wars and the Depression are shaped by survival and hardship. Most seniors in this cohort are conservative and traditional, and the world is black and white.

From a health care perspective, their physicians were the local authority, had more time to spend with patient and recommendations made were taken very seriously.

Which is why it may seem like our aging loved ones blindly leave their health care matters solely in the hands of their physician.

In today’s world we are faced with a health care system described as consumer-centred with an average of 10 minutes per visit with a family physician. Physicians are pressed and see a lot of patients in a day. They will usually address only one concern per visit.

Many have expressed they don’t always have enough time to meet their patient’s needs. Patients are encouraged to come prepared to their visit to get the most from their physician’s expertise and diagnostic skills.
1. We make an appointment for a reason. The key is to write down that reason on a piece of paper with the date and time of the appointment and with whom (if with a specialist). Below the reason, jot down all the symptoms being experienced, how long they’ve been present, what aggravates the symptoms, what relieves them and the severity of the symptoms.

Murphy’s Law states that by the time we walk into the clinic, quite a few or all of the symptoms have magically disappeared!
2. Below the symptoms, write down a list of questions for the appointment. Some examples are:

• How are symptoms caused and how long will they last?
• Will the symptoms go away?
• How is the condition diagnosed?
• What is the treatment?
• Are there alternative therapies?
• What medications and/or over the counter medications are helpful?
• What are the side effects?
• Will current medications interfere with any new medications?
• What other lifestyle changes are needed?
3. Bring a list of all medications being taken. Include all vitamins, natural remedies and over-the counter prescriptions. If you don’t have a list, bring a bag with all the above with you.
4. If your aging loved one is comfortable, ask that you be their extra set of ears and eyes. It’s difficult for anyone to catch everything the doctor recommends or to think of all the questions. Offer to take notes so you and your parents can review them at home.
5. If you feel your aging loved one needs more time to deal with a medical issue, ask for an extra long appointment when booking the visit.
6. Follow-up is key! If tests were done, a referral made or your loved one needs a follow-up appointment, take the lead. Ask your health-care provider when you can expect to hear back.

If you don’t hear back from the clinic or your physician within the timeframe, a friendly inquiry doesn’t hurt. Don’t forget to ask for a copy of any test results.
Note: The winner of our Rocky Mountain Café gift certificate goes to Bev Coleman. Thanks to everyone who e-mailed me your feedback on the care planning binder.

If you are interested in reading about a specific eldercare topic, please contact me with your suggestions.

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Planning. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Friday.

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“You are amazing! What I tried to do in 2 months, you did in 1 week. You’ve helped us navigate the system, made sense of Mom’s disease, and gave back her independence and control. Thank you for making such a difference in Mom’s life and giving us, her family, complete peace of mind.”

– Mike G., Nanaimo, BC