To: All of My Faithful Readers
From: Dear Nurse
This segment is dedicated not so much to answering a particular question I have received, but more as an observation that I see happen almost daily and a few tips on how to prevent it from happening to your Loved One. Some of the ideas in the discussion are based loosely on article I read entitled “Dealing With a Doctor who Talks to You Rather Than Your Parent," originally written by Cerie Goldenberg, MSW, while others come from my own anecdotal experience. When you become a family caregiver for your elderly parent, you may encounter a situation where the doctor wrongly or excessively focuses on you (the support structure) rather than your parent (the person being supported - the one who we all ought to be focusing on). It can be frustrating, and potentially downright disrespectful to your parent depending on the context of the particular situation. It may also run counter to some of the basic goals that you and they share regarding their care.
Q: What do you do when you go along with your parent to their doctors’ appointment and find that the doctor is talking to you rather than to them? Instead of focusing on your parent and letting you step in when necessary, the doctor may ignore your parent all together and try to interact solely with you. So what do you do?
A: This is a delicate situation that happens more frequently than you might expect and warrants some forethought. Here are a few ideas for you to consider:
There may be reasons that the doctor may do this, not the least of which is time. If you are with the Senior at their appointment it is likely because they are dealing with cognitive limitations and challenges. This can make communicating with them more time-consuming for the doctor. As he or she wants to get through the appointment as quickly as possible, he or she might turn to you in hopes of saving time. But acting as your parents’ advocate means insisting that the doctor acknowledge them as an individual and recognizing that they are the actual patient for whom he or she is caring. This means not only greeting them by name, but also directing all questions to them and verbally guiding then through each step of the examination.
Recognize that there is a difference between answering questions when necessary (e.g. when a Senior is cognitively unable to do so) and having the doctor ignore the patient. Even if you happen to be right there and end up answering most of the questions yourself, the doctor ought to be directing their attention directly to your parent or loved one. This shows the patient a certain level of respect and dignity in treatment and helps to preserve your parent’s self-esteem. That is a very important step towards encouraging the highest level of independence and motivation possible going forward.
If you notice that the doctor is not treating your parent with the proper respect, do not hesitate to speak up. Tell him or her to address your parent directly. Advocate for the independence and respect that they have long earned and deserve.
Please send me your questions and comments.
Janice Guckin Barry, RN, Dear Nurse