15 Tips for When Your Older Parent Goes to the Doctor

How to avoid the what-did-they-say? confusion after a doctor visit

Going to see the doctor is nerve-wracking enough for your older parent when he or she is there for a routine visit and is feeling well at the time, but when one doesn’t feel well, they may be even more prone to become forgetful, stressed, or overwhelmed by the time they see the health professional.

In an ideal world you would accompany your parent to all medical appointments, but we all know that’s just not possible all the time. As a result, it can be difficult to get useful information from your parent after a doctor visit—perhaps they’ve either forgotten what the doctor said, didn’t fully understand, or were overwhelmed with information. If you can’t be there on the visit, ask a trusted friend or perhaps a home health aide to accompany them and have them report back to you.

Whether your parent visits the doctor with or without a companion, these tips will help avoid the “patient-in-the-headlight” syndrome.

  • 1. Bring questions for the doctor written on a sheet of paper and make sure every question is answered
  • 2. If your parent is alone and isn’t able or willing to take notes, ask if a medical assistant or nurse would take notes
  • 3. If you’re at the visit with your parent, take detailed notes so you can refer back to them later
  • 4. Keep all notes in the same notebook; it will make it easier to refer to by having ongoing documentation
  • 5. Bring a list of all your parent’s medications including vitamins and supplements
  • 6. Before the visit, create an outline of your parent’s medical history; bring it to the appointment
  • 7. State a clear reason why your parent is visiting the doctor: what is the problem?
  • 8. If diagnosed, ask if the diagnosis is a short-term or long-term condition
  • 9. Ask about various treatment options and the benefits/drawbacks of each option
  • 10. If new medications are prescribed, ask about interactions with current medications or if there are any side effects
  • 11. If blood work is prescribed, ask the purpose and what the results mean
  • 12. If other tests are required, ask what the purpose of each test, along with possible scenarios of outcomes
  • 13. Ask if there are signs or symptoms to be watching for, and at what point should a doctor be consulted again
  • 14. Ask if there are any specific areas on which to focus to improve your parent’s health; should any lifestyle or nutritional changes be made?
  •  15. If you or your parent gets home and has forgotten to ask something, call the doctor back immediately for an answer; most health professionals are happy to assist

Each doctor visit is unique, as each health professional has different ways of dealing with their patients. It’s important to be assertive when discussing health matters; don’t hesitate to ask more questions or to have them explain things again. Your parent’s well-being is at stake.