Among the challenges you may face as a caregiver for an aging parent is the refusal to see a doctor. Most people assume a person who has the financial means to get medical care will do so – just simple scheduling, right? Not always.
So what do you do?
First, go for backup. While it may sound silly, if you have been a caregiver (or in contact with other caregivers) for any length of time, you understand that family dynamics can often come into play in these situations. Your parent took you to the doctor as a child, and in your adulthood has been offering you advice over the years. Having those tables begin to turn – even if it is ever so slightly – can cause some resistance.
As their loved one, the caregiver often thinks their advice is first to be considered, but the nature of family dynamics sometimes proves otherwise. Often, you can enlist the help of an objective third party, such as a doctor or nurse. Preferably, this person is already known to and trusted by your parent. He or she is likely to be viewed very differently since they’ll be seen as a professional and not subject to the parent-child power struggle. If possible, a geriatric physician is even better, because he or she deals with patients in their age range every day and can often hint at possibilities that others (loved ones or not) may miss. They can often be your best advocate.
Second, if the objective third party doesn’t work, or if you cannot secure one easily, getting one of your parent’s friends on board may work wonders. The friend may have already seen a geriatric physician or know someone who has similar symptoms who sought medical attention. Cast your net to include relatives (perhaps your parent’s sibling) to weigh in on the subject as well. Though the friend or sibling definitely has an interest in the matter, they also have more life experience and can relate to your parent on an entirely different level.
Third, create a positive reward. As a person ages, the “stuff” of life becomes less important than the experiences of life. So, perhaps the two of you can have breakfast or lunch at their favorite diner after the appointment. It becomes a positive memory for your parent and it creates a convenient focal point should another doctor’s visit be necessary.
Fourth, be aware of the time span between appointments. Often, when we are scheduling appointments at the front desk, the scheduler may offer you the very first appointment available. If there is no medical emergency, some time between appointments may make the experience seem less invasive and unpleasant.
As a caregiver, you will often need to gain a greater level of perspective in order to relieve frustration. For example, your parent may give you what you deem an absolutely ridiculous reason for not wanting to go to the doctor. For some people, aging brings with it a fear (albeit sometimes irrational) of doctors or hospitals. It may create a very unpleasant association – for example: it may conjure up memories of time spent with their loved ones following an illness or it may bring to the surface fears of hearing that he or she may need to have a surgical procedure. For an elderly person who has been relatively healthy and independent all their lives, the thought of losing that independence can be extremely bothersome.
Though younger generations have embraced pharmaceuticals, many older adults have relied heavily on the home remedies and tinctures their mothers and grandmothers used on them. Certainly, a level of distrust can exist toward these “newer” treatment options (and their side effects).
Either way, try to assure the discussion (and the trip) is as pleasant as possible… but do schedule that appointment at the first sign of an okay…. okay?