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How To Advocate for Your Parent with the Doctor


We have all heard of parents and children trading places in regards to daily needs and care. As our parent or other loved ones age we are called upon more and more to assist with their needs. The care that was once given to you is now, in turn, a service you can provide for them. Whereas when you were a child the appointment may have been accompanied by a few tears and a lollipop, the aging adult’s visit to the doctor comes with more challenges, questions, and yes, occasionally tears as well. Here are a few suggestions to help you be a good advocate for your loved one with the doctor.

Before the appointment:

Know what insurance they have and what it will cover in regards to any medication, treatment, home care, or placement the doctor may prescribe. If you are aware of what is and isn’t covered you can let the doctor know on the spot to allow them the opportunity to propose alternatives. Not all insurances are alike. Just because the doctor recommends or prescribes it doesn’t mean your insurance is going to cover it.

Prepare a list of current medications, diagnoses, allergies, and any symptoms they are currently experiencing. Examples include: vitamins and supplements, inhalers or breathing treatments, injections, past diagnoses even if they are healed, allergies (including seasonal), as well as chronic and acute symptoms.

Prepare a list of facts and questions. Some examples may include the following: Present their current symptoms. If possible, have the timeline of symptoms or health events ready to report. What treatment options are there? What is the prognosis of their diagnosis? What will these new medicines do for them? Ask about contra-indications with current medications. What side-effects are possible? Is there a chance I could notice confusion, forgetfulness, or change in mood? Is this something that will get worse over time or should I expect it to resolve? Is weight-loss in this instance normal? What should I watch for that you would want me to report?

During the appointment:

Go with them. Your parent may be fully capable of being an accurate historian and/or advocate for their health. However, time with the doctor is precious and they need to make the most of it. We all get tongue-tied and distracted in different situations. You can be there to add to your parents report or bring up things that they don’t, or forget to, state themselves.

Four ears are better than two. You can write down the doctor’s answers, comments, and recommendations in real time for your records and later review. You can ask questions to help your parent and yourself understand better. You can also question the doctor’s recommendations and plan. We trust our doctors and understand that they know what they are talking about. That being said, they are as human as we are. I know I have made at least two mistakes today. Questioning a doctor, or having a discussion as to the accuracy of their assessment, is not a crime and could actually be beneficial to all involved. As with any other interaction, approach it from a place of respect and a genuine search for understanding towards the best possible outcome for your loved one.

At the conclusion of the appointment:

Before the doctor leaves the room, ask them to review the next steps your parent is to take. If a new medication is given, go over the prescription’s names, doses, frequency, duration, with or without food, and the possible side effects. Ask if they have already called it into the pharmacy or if you will need to take a written prescription with you when you leave the office. Ask if the doctor wants to see him or her again and when.

Clarify if your parent will need to be seen by a specialist. If so, whom? Will the doctor’s office make the appointment for your loved one or are you to call and make the appointment? Will the doctor’s office call your parent’s insurance company and ask if the specialist is covered under his or her plan or do you need to do that? Where is the specialist located? If testing has been suggested ask when and where. The same question of contacting the insurance company applies to testing as it does to specialists. Ask the doctor if fasting is involved and how and when will your parent get the results. Make sure you understand any special directions for home and request a list of to do’s or not to do’s.

Much of this can be overwhelming when coupled with the emotions you’re already feeling about your aging loved one. These suggestions may help you prepare and navigate this step of your parent’s aging process with a little more ease. I know these visits don’t come with lollipops like yours did as a child, but you can still go for ice cream after!