Accompanying elderly patients to the doctor can be challenging if you’re not prepared. Here are some recommendations for making you a pro at doctor visits.
IT’S LIKE TAKING YOUR KIDS TO THE DOCTOR
My role as a caregiver to my parents began gradually. At first, I started accompanying them to their doctor visits and eventually, I became their sole medical historian and health surrogate.
Every caregiver eventually takes on that role in some capacity. What this means is that you know every little detail about your parent’s health, much in the same way that your parents knew about you as a child, when they took you to the doctor.
Even if you hire an aide or place your parents in a care facility, you will still be responsible for all their medical information and needs.
As my parent’s health gradually declined because of Alzheimer’s, dementia and plain old rickety aging, I had to put on my “mommy” hat.
Doctor visits would involve waking them up and making sure they were dressed and fed (unless they were fasting for a lab appointment). Then there was a slow walk to the car, getting them seated in the back seat and secured with seat belts, driving to the appointment and walking to the doctor’s office.
Once there, I took care of signing any papers and verbally following-up with the doctor after he had talked to my parents. Then upon returning home, I’d take care of their next meal and whatever routine was scheduled for the rest of the day. A morning lab appointment, for example, would ultimately take up at least half of my workday, if not more.
You can hire a health aide to assist with these tasks. And because of modern technology, you can be virtually present during the actual medical consult. I took advantage of such services at times when I couldn’t be physically present. A mobile phone with a speaker is truly handy for a caregiver! An aide can assist but will rarely be the medical historian. So as the patient advocate, it’s important you communicate consistently with doctors — virtually or otherwise.
SEVEN TIPS FOR ELDERLY PATIENT DOCTOR VISITS
Here are seven tips to make medical visits a little easier. Before you even start, make sure you leave the house with everyone’s proper ID. Believe me, it’s easy to forget. It helps to prepare for everything listed below the night before.
Early bird appointments. Although you might want to work with your schedule (in my case, taking care of my parents was at first a part-time job until it became full-time), I found that morning appointments are best.
Transportation. If one or both of your parents require special transportation services with a wheelchair, arrange this ahead of time with your insurance company or the county. If not, you’ll need a car that’s accessible; most elderly cannot negotiate stepping up into a truck or SUV.
Parking. Check with your local government about handicap permits. In Miami-Dade, you’re allowed to exhibit a handicap permit in your car if you’re transporting someone whose mobility is compromised. In my case, it was important because even though my parents could walk, they couldn’t walk very far.
Listen, observe and take note. Day-by-day, listen closely to your parents, make observations and jot down any unusual symptoms or complaints. You’ll be responsible for sharing these during doctor visits after medical professionals have spoken to your parents directly. Although you’re the medical historian and patient advocate, you need to stay quiet while the doctor connects with patients.
Come prepared for doctor visits. Make sure you have prepared a list of current medications and other health routines. For example, my father routinely visited the cardiologist and only I could update his primary care physician. Don’t assume that doctors communicate with each other. As the medical historian and patient advocate during doctor visits, you’re the ultimate “information central” and “data bank” for your parents. This is true for all children who become parents to their parents, even when you hire a home health care aide. Like I said above, it’s just like taking kids who can’t speak for themselves to doctor visits.
Back to school for clinical expertise. Take clear notes during doctor visits. If you’re juggling the information for two patients like I did, you’ll thank yourself later as there is quite a bit of minutia to remember regarding prescriptions, protocols, follow-up phone calls and doctor visits, health routines and all manner of details you never imagined you’d have to recall.
Be PROACTIVE. Let the doctors and their staff do as much as they can do to help you. For example, if they can call or fax in prescriptions, nudge them before you leave the office. Don’t be shy about asking for support in managing your parent’s health care before, during and after doctor visits.
The pharmacist is your buddy. This will be an inevitable relationship you’ll develop as a caregiver that will take up some time in your list of people who are part of your role. The doctor visits are just one step in the process. Even if your pharmacy delivers medications, make sure you develop a good rapport with the pharmacist.
Self-care. Remember to relax. Going through life rushed and frazzled isn’t good for anyone, even if you’re not caregiving. It’s easy to become impatient during lengthy wait times during doctor visits, which is why I would recommend to everyone — not just caregivers — to create a life with space instead of clutter. For me, doctor visits with my parents represented quality time I spent with them without other distractions. Surrender to the present and cherish those moments, much as you would with your kids or any beloved person in your life needing medical care.
I hope my tips will help you make the most of a challenging time during adult life. Knowing what to expect will help you prepare for what’s ahead as you become a parent to your parents.
— Maria de los Angeles is an award-winning writer based in Miami who became a caregiver to her parents in 2008. Since then, she has been a passionate advocate for eldercare and caregiver issues.Claudio Alegre is the CEO & Chief Content Writer for Angel Home Care Services on the Web and Patient and Family Advocate off the Web. He lives in Miami with his wife and 3 boys. He's passionate about healthcare and all things caregiving. He can be reached at [email protected] or directly at 305.220.4544
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