When Family Members Accompany an Aging Parent to the Doctor

Visiting the doctor’s office with an aging parent can be one the most puzzling situations for adult children as they provide increasing support. The dynamics of the situation can be confusing, especially in a time when family roles and responsibilities are changing. My husband visited the doctor with his 90-year-old mother on several occasions. At each appointment he tried to keep the focus on her, and he usually waited for her to bring up issues with her physician. However, he also found that as she declined cognitively, sharing his observations became more important, particularly when he thought that some of her symptoms might result from medication interactions.

American Medical News, a publication of the American Medical Association (AMA), recently published a November 14, 2011 article about relatives who accompany an aging patient on a visit to the doctor. When the Office Visit is a Family Matter includes interviews with physicians who have found themselves in the examining room with a patient and one or more of the patient’s relatives.

Some Important Issues to Keep in Mind

When Family Members Accompany a Patient to a Physician Visit

  • Keep the focus on the patient and allow at least a bit of individual time for the patient and physician to meet together alone.
  • Listen to one another. Don’t interrupt.
  • A relative can help an aging patient comply with medications and other medical therapies.
  • Write things down, especially if the elderly family member is experiencing cognitive decline.
  • Be clear about the role of each person on the room.
  • Avoid using the physician as an arbiter when there are family disagreements.

2 thoughts on “When Family Members Accompany an Aging Parent to the Doctor

  1. Of course we are all familiar with the doctor who talks to the adult child about the senior, instead of talking TO the senior…I have even seen Geriatricians do that! But the worst was taking my Dad to the Urologist (I’m a daughter) and offering to “step out” during the exam, but the doc ignored me and proceeded anyway! My shoes suddenly became very interesting! Later, I apologized to my Dad and told him how insensitive I thought the doctor had been.

    • Thanks for your comment. My family, too, has been in situations where a physician or other medical provider was dismissive or disrespectful. Most of the time, however, medical professionals seem to put immense effort into trying to ascertain the family/health situation and provide good care. This article that I reviewed was written by doctors for doctors in a publication that goes to lots of physicians.

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