If a loved one has Alzheimer’s, you’ve got lots of questions, and not much time with the doctor. To have the most productive medical appointments possible, try these tips from Eric Tangalos, M.D., a specialist in internal medicine and geriatrics at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., and a researcher with Mayo Clinic’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center:
Involve as many family members as possible. “The more family members, the better,” says Dr. Tangalos. Gathering the family together to talk with the doctor may make for a more honest and comprehensive discussion of your relative’s condition and may encourage the doctor to take more time with you. It may also help prevent the misunderstandings that inevitably occur when family members try to relay complicated health information to each other. If you’re going to make the medical visit a family affair, make sure the appointment desk knows this ahead of time.
Focus on the big picture. Ask your relative’s doctor to discuss the important issues facing you, such as establishing advance directives or putting restrictions on your loved one’s driving. Save the gripes about day-to-day irritations for friends or a caregivers support group.
Focus on the future. If your relative is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, ask the doctor to discuss the issues you’ll have to deal with in the next 10 years. If your loved one is in the middle stages of the illness, request a road map for the next five years.
Be prepared. Read up on the issues most important to you so that you’ll be prepared to discuss them with your loved one’s doctor. If you’re concerned that you may not remember all the points you want to cover, bring a list to the appointment. Making a list helps you remember details. It also helps to focus the conversation so that you’re sure to cover the most important issues on your mind.
Ask for referrals or recommendations. A doctor who is well-versed in Alzheimer’s disease care can easily refer you to the resources you need, such as a meal service or respite care.
Deal promptly with conflict. If something annoys you about a particular appointment, or if a misunderstanding arises, discuss it with the doctor and try your best to resolve it. Don’t be in a hurry to switch doctors. This could be confusing to your relative and detrimental to his or her care in the long run. “In most cases, the best advocates for people with Alzheimer’s disease are those who’ve known them the longest,” Dr. Tangalos says.
So what’s the bottom line for successful, productive medical appointments? Ask for the information and involvement you and your family need. Don’t worry about taking too much time.
“Doctors want families to be involved,” Dr. Tangalos says. “We make better decisions when we’re working closely with the people who care.”
(Source: Mayo Clinic, online at www.mayoclinic.com.)