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Communicating With Your Aging Parent’s Physician

Posted Jan 15 2011 10:01am

Physicians are a vital part of your aging parent’s health care. It is therefore crucial that you and your parent feel comfortable communicating questions and concerns to the appropriate physician.

Part of a Team – Reporting Symptoms

If you are your parent’s primary caregiver, you are an integral part of a team. As part of a team, you must share information to ensure that your parent receives the best possible care. For example, if your elder is becoming confused or forgetful, it can be related to the onset of dementia, or it can be the effects of dehydration, over-medication, depression or nothing special — perhaps they have always been somewhat forgetful. Do not assume that erratic behavior is linked to getting older because often times symptoms are related to something.

Sharing Information – Understanding Diagnosis and Prognosis

You and your parent have the right and responsibility to understand your parent’s condition including both diagnosis and prognosis. In addition, it is crucial for both of you to understand and participate in all treatment decisions. Most of us have not been encouraged to communicate and/or question physicians–a tendency that must be overcome.

A treating physician should be able to describe the options available and any potential side effects of any treatment. Further, a physician can recommend literature that explains, in-depth, various treatment options and their track records of success. Below are questions you should ask your parent’s physician when a treatment or procedure has been recommended.  When asking these questions, make sure that you are satisfied with the responses. If not, ask for clarification because clarity is vital.

  • Why is this test, treatment, or procedure being recommended at this time?
  • Is this test, treatment, or procedure absolutely necessary? What are some of the other options available?
  • What are the next steps?
  • What are the risks and benefits from the test, treatment, or procedure?
  • What are the ramifications if the test, treatment, or procedure is not done?
  • How much will this cost, and how much is covered by Health Care or my insurance?
  • Are there any experimental tests, treatments, or procedures available?

While it is important for you to be able to communicate with your parent’s physician, it is equally important for your parent to do the same.  Support and encourage them to do so and when necessary intervene on your parent’s behalf.

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