Family caregivers of seniors often become the healthcare “go between.” We go to doctor’s appointments, not only physically driving our senior loved ones but also being the driver of their medical care, going between them and their healthcare team.
Family caregivers may learn about loved ones’ best treatment options, give the medications, find the doctors, prepare the paperwork, oversee the insurance plans and even take vital signs. We might also set up, use and maintain home medical equipment. Family caregivers might also be found carrying the adaptive devices or durable medical equipment around including walkers, wheelchairs, canes and oxygen tanks.
Tracking all of the seniors’ health information and using the latest technology, including smartphone apps and other digital devices, to send up to the minute health information to the medical team is a role to which family members also contribute.
You may go to classes to learn more about how to help them manage their conditions and attend support groups to help the family deal with the changes aging brings.
Did you know that research shows that when people get involved with medical care, including involving family caregivers, they get better health results?
Process for Getting Better Results
In order to help caregivers be prepared to be a team player in the healthcare of their senior loved ones, we have gathered some steps you can do to be ready to see the doctor and get the most of your visits.
- Whether you are going to a regular checkup or seeing a specialist, the first step is getting the appointment made. While you are on the phone making the appointment, it often helps to ask some questions.
- What do you need to bring with you?
- Where do you park?
- Can you fill out paperwork online so that you can limit the amount of time your senior waits in the waiting room?
- Does the doctor usually run on time or should you make the appointment for first thing in morning or right after lunch to keep the wait time for your senior to a minimum?
- If you are getting a surgical consult, find out how often they perform this procedure and any outcomes to be aware of in the facility such as post-op infection rate.
- Ask the cost of the visit, lab tests or procedures if your insurance doesn’t cover it or there is a copay so that you are informed.
- Collate and copy any medical reports, data, paperwork, and documents that you might need when seeing the doctor or other healthcare professional. Have your copies ready to give to the doctor if needed. Do you have blood pressure readings, blood sugar logs, medical records, test results, x-ray reports, or other relevant medical information that the doctor needs to see to be fully informed about your senior loved one? It would be very helpful to the care of your senior loved one if the doctor can read any reports and base medical decisions on real data.
- Make a copy of your senior’s advanced directive that your doctor can keep on file. DNR, living will, or a healthcare proxy would be important for your healthcare team to have on hand in order to be informed for the future.
- If you don’t have this completed yet, make a list of all medications your senior loved one takes now, including the exact dosages, full medication names and the times that the medicines are taken. Include any allergies to medications or foods including what consequences of exposure are such as hives or headache. It would be helpful to have the name of your senior’s pharmacy and phone number on this list in case the medical office ever needs to call in a prescription. Don’t forget to include all over the counter medications your senior takes including sleep aids, vitamins and minerals, herbal supplements and any other products. This list should be kept up to date and a copy carried in your purse or wallet as well as in your seniors in case it should be needed in an emergency.
- Bring a list of your senior’s medical history. Include surgeries, medical diagnoses, family history, recent hospitalizations, and a brief description of current symptoms. Also have ready the names and contact information of any other doctors currently treating your senior who may have vital information for this healthcare provider.
- Make a list of any specific questions that you have as a caregiver. Are you afraid about your senior dosing their medications, future decline, what to expect, tests, or other medical questions? Now is the time to get answers and a list will help your remember what is on your mind. You may want to prioritize your list in case you run out of time so you get the burning issues addressed.
- Plan what your senior should wear. Clothes should be easy to get on and off and comfortable for sitting for a while. Be sure they have a light jacket or sweater in case it is cold in the office.
- Have a paper and pencil ready to take notes so you will be able to tell other family members or complete the treatment correctly. Ask for brochures or literature to help you learn more about the diagnosis, treatment, medications or exercises that will help your senior loved one.
- Ask if there are other specialists or programs that would benefit your senior, such as an occupational therapist, speech therapist, diabetes educator, or dietitian. They may not offer one of those but they could give you valuable insight into another helpful strategy to help your senior stay well. The doctor may also be able to connect you with support groups or resources in your location which you were unaware.
- Once you get back from the appointment, follow the professional’s advice and treatment plan. Record any side effects or benefits of the treatment plan so you can discuss amending the plan, if needed, with the doctor on the next visit. If something happens in the meantime, don’t be afraid to contact your health professional to give them an update and ask for advice.
This list of suggestions to help you get ready may seem overwhelming when looked at it as one piece. However, you probably already have many of these items done and ready to take with you to the doctor.
Remember, It’s Your Loved One’s Healthcare
If you don’t have some of them completed, it is a good time to do so because several of these should be accessible in case of an emergency. Medication lists and advance directives should always be up to date and ready to give to emergency personnel in case of an accident or illness.
Naturally, when you go to the doctor with your senior loved one, you want it to be a calm meeting where you can learn and your senior can get the medical care they need.
Remember that the healthcare professional you are seeing won’t have a lot of time to chat, so keep your comments and questions succinct. Ask what you need to know to care for your senior properly. Allow them to talk with your senior and hear the symptoms directly from them and not just you. This will help the doctor observe any changes in your senior loved one from visit to visit.
Seeking – and needing – medical care, especially when it is not a routine checkup, can be stressful for your senior loved one. Being prepared will help you and your senior benefit from the visit.
Don’t forget that as a caregiver you need to visit your own doctor, get your own medical issues treated and keep yourself in the best possible care so that you can continue to be a caregiver for as long as your senior loved one needs you!