Many children of aging parents find that the roles of “parent and child” can seem to flip-flop overnight. One day your parents seem perfectly capable of handling routine business on their own, the next slip-and-fall accident, sudden illness or the beginning stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s can toss life as you know it upside down.
One of the first and most noticeable changes may be in one or both of your parent’s need for assistance when visiting the doctor – or in translating the medical jargon as diagnoses and/or prescriptions for medications become more complex.
Tips For Communication With Your Elderly Parents’ Doctor
The following tips can ease the transition as you begin to take a more active role in your parents’ medical appointments and doctor visits.
- Complete Medical Directives. Do your parents have a completed medical directive? Also called Advance Directives, medical directives provide specific information and instructions about what an adult does and doesn’t want when it comes to resuscitation, the types of life support that can be used, organ/tissue donation, and other important medical decisions. People often put these off until it’s too late, which makes things very stressful – and potentially confrontational – when families struggle to make these decisions for a loved one. Read our blog, What You Need to Know About Advance Directives to learn more.
- Get a Power of Attorney. If you are even beginning to think of communicating with your parents’ doctor, it is a sign a Power of Attorney should be set in place. Medical records are confidential and there is a fine line about what doctors can tell you without the permission of your parent, which can be especially tricky if dementia or Alzheimer’s is at work. Getting a Power of Attorney while your parents are still fully competent is the simplest way to prepare for the paperwork, decisions and signatures that may be required in the future when it comes to requesting medical information and records.
- Choose one medical liaison. To keep things streamlined, efficient and easy for doctors, it’s recommended that your family choose one medical liaison who will communicate directly with the doctor and then transmit the information to the family at large. If nobody lives in the area, hire a companion, caregiver or professional medical advocate to fill this role instead.
- Visit the doctors with your parents. It’s no surprise that establishing relationships with your parents’ healthcare professionals facilitates communication down the road. Schedule appointments with each of their general practitioners and regular specialists for a meet-and-greet and to learn more about where your parents are at today, as well as what the doctor recommends to keep them well and healthy into the future.
- Get a list of current medications. Assemble a list of all the medications and supplements your parents are currently prescribed and/or taking. Keep it updated regularly. This will come in handy if a doctor changes or your parent begins displaying the symptoms of a potential medication side effect.
- Learn to be an advocate. Many lay-people assume that doctors communicate with one another about their patients. This is rarely the case. It requires an advocate and a good communicator to keep each of the doctors abreast of what is said, experienced, diagnosed or prescribed by other doctors, especially if they aren’t in the same office. It’s also a good idea to keep your own copies of important medical records.
- Consider changing doctors if necessary. If you don’t feel your parent is getting adequate care, or a particular doctor is difficult to communicate with, take action and switch to one that better meets your parents’ needs.