If you are able to join your aging parent (or anyone) to an appointment, the experience is so much better. Appointments are far too short, and being prepared is key to maximize this time.
Here are 10 tips that can help you navigate and assist your parent or family member in getting care. (Based on a Feb 2022 article by Heidi Godman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter) with tips from Dr. Suzanne Salamon, associate chief of gerontology at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
Information to share or gather before medical visits
- Call ahead to say you’ll be accompanying your loved one. Find out if you’ll be allowed in the exam room, and if your parent needs to sign a form so the doctor can speak with you. “Tell the office if your parent has designated you as the health care proxy — the person who’ll speak for your parent if they’re unable to answer for themselves,” Dr. Salamon says. If so, share that document.
- Get basic information from your parent. You’ll need to know their medical history to speak knowledgeably with the doctor and office staff. This includes current health conditions, past surgeries, current medications and supplements, and any allergies to medications. If your parent is unable to help, see if another family member has answers.
- Fill out paperwork in advance. Some medical offices want new and even existing patients to fill out paperwork detailing the patient’s medical history, insurance, and current symptoms. That’s time consuming and challenging for older parents who may have confusion or arthritis that makes writing hard. Ask if paperwork can be mailed or downloaded. Then complete the paperwork before appointment time.
- Gather intel to share with the doctor. “Is your parent taking medications properly? Have you noticed lapses in memory? Are the bills getting paid? Is the garbage being taken out? Does your parent use an assistive walking device or lean on furniture to walk? Is your mom or dad eating, bathing, or talking to people every day?” Dr. Salamon asks.
On the day of the medical visit
- Make a list of concerns. Create a bullet-point list of your parent’s symptoms, questions, and other medical concerns. You can also include symptoms you’ve noticed in your parent, such as difficulty getting through daily activities. Keep the list brief and to the point. “You can hand it to the doctor at the time of the appointment. It’s even more helpful if you send it a few days before,” Dr. Salamon says.
- Bag up all medicines, vitamins, and other supplements. Bring these to the appointment so the doctor will know exactly what your parent takes and the doses. “It also helps me check if too many medications are being taken. For example, I’ve seen two bottles of the same prescription — a brand name and a generic — and the person is taking both and doesn’t realize it,” Dr. Salamon says.
- Decide who’s doing the talking. Before going to the appointment, talk to your loved one about how much interaction you should have with the doctor. “Don’t go in thinking you’ll do all the talking, and don’t be silent the whole time. Ask what your parent is comfortable with,” Dr. Salamon says. “Is it okay to chime in if there’s a gap in information?”
- Be respectful. Don’t treat your parent or friend like a child and don’t criticize them, especially in front of the doctor. “Use words in a kind, supportive way,” Dr. Salamon advises. “If a parent isn’t sure about a medication, say, ‘Mom, remember you started taking that medicine seven months ago?’ Don’t say, ‘Mom, I can’t believe you don’t know your own medications!’ It’s humiliating. Help your parent retain dignity.”
- Take notes. Write down the doctor’s observations, advice, and instructions. Also, write down the answers to your list of concerns and questions.
After the medical visit
- Follow up. If the doctor provides instructions, post them in a visible spot in your loved one’s home. Also, write up or print out your notes and share them. Make sure they get any prescribed medicines and knows how to take them. Mark upcoming appointments or tests on your (and their) calendar.