Your parents deserve to receive the best possible care as they get older. With that in mind, you can help them stay on top of treating any health problems they have, simply by showing an interest in their health and asking the right questions at doctor visits.
If your parents have begun to develop chronic medical problems, it’s a good idea to educate yourself about their medical care and form a relationship with their doctor. Offer to go to an appointment with them—sometimes, older patients are reluctant to ask questions because they don’t want to bother a doctor. By accompanying your parents to their medical appointments, you can act as a health advocate on their behalf and take notes that may help in later discussions with them. (Remember, privacy laws require that you receive your parents’ permission to talk to their doctor.)
Following medical directions can be a big challenge with older adults—not because they don’t care, but because their medical needs are increasingly complex. If your parent isn’t taking a prescribed drug or sticking with a heart-healthy diet or physical rehabilitation program as their doctor ordered, it’s important to find out why. To help your parents get top-notch care, ask questions like:
Make note of any changes in your parent’s medical condition, appearance, habits, or lifestyle, such as:
If your parent is taking medication for chronic conditions, make note of whether those conditions are still managed effectively. Has your parent started a new medication, and are they experiencing any changes that coincide with starting to take it? What over-the-counter or alternative remedies are they taking (including teas and supplements)? If you think a medication may be causing side effects or making another condition worse, be sure to bring it to the doctor’s attention.
Being organized will help keep you calm and focused. It will also be useful to the doctor. To prepare for the appointment: Write down the reason(s) for your visit and any questions you have, so you don’t forget anything. Partners in Care has a Doctor Visit Worksheet you can use as a guide. Be sure to bring:
Ask about your parents’ health status. Write down vital signs, such as blood pressure readings and weight.
Ask the doctor to explain or review each medication, using the Medication Tracker to note information such as:
In addition, ask about any vaccines your parent might need: seasonal flu and H1N1 vaccines, pneumonia, shingles, and pertussis (whooping cough).
Ask the doctor:
Also, should your parents learn new stress management techniques?
Ask about follow-up care—at home, when you should come back, and whether your parent needs to see any specialists before their next doctor visit.
In addition, ask the doctor how you can best help: Since you want to be an active player on your parents’ health care team, clarify your role in helping with their medical condition(s) and how you can help the doctor deliver good care.
Speak up if you don’t understand something, and make a point of asking your parent if he or she has questions. To make sure you’re not overlooking anything important, it helps to ask the doctor a few catch-all questions, such as:
If you’ve done research before the appointment that suggests an alternative treatment the doctor hasn’t mentioned, feel free to bring it up. Try an approach such as “What do you think about this?”
Remember, the doctor may be the medical expert, but you and your loved one are the experts on your situation. Remember too that a doctor’s job is to care for people. You might be reluctant to “bother” a doctor, but a good physician knows that providing vital information to patients and caregivers is a huge part of that care and won’t feel bothered.