Navigating care for an older adult can be challenging, even for experienced caregivers, and especially when the individual is exhibiting signs of dementia.
If you’re helping someone get medical care and you have concerns that they have a memory problem, there are several strategies to help you serve as an effective advocate.
First, you may need to accompany the person to medical appointments so you can ensure important information is communicated accurately. Inviting yourself to an office visit can be awkward and may even be discouraged by well-intentioned office staff, but communicating your concerns clearly will go a long way. This may include calling ahead to notify the healthcare provider that you will be joining the patient during the visit and preparing accordingly.
When you arrive, introduce yourself to the healthcare provider and calmly express your concerns; this information is important to convey and will be a valuable supplement to the provider’s assessments. The provider may want to conduct a thorough memory evaluation, which includes taking a detailed health history that the person with the memory impairment may not be able to provide.
If a diagnosis of dementia is eventually made, your involvement will likely be needed, so making your presence known early is essential.
Keep in mind that gerontologic advanced practice nurses (APNs) are skilled advocates for older adults. In my practice, gerontologic APNs like myself educate patients and family members about symptoms and medications, identify treatment plans, and provide resources and guidance. Our goal is the same as yours: supporting older adults so they receive the best possible care.
Tips for advocacy
If the person you’re caring for declines your suggestion to come to their appointment, offer to drive. You can sweeten the offer with a shared meal afterwards.
Once you arrive at the appointment, if you’re not permitted in the exam room, be sure the provider knows you’re in the waiting area. The provider may want to speak with you in private to get a better idea of what is happening and hear your concerns. Being in the building will expedite this step.
To increase your chance of accompanying the patient in the exam room, let the provider know you’ll take notes so you can coordinate appointments, pick up prescriptions, and write down medical recommendations.
Whether you are allowed in the exam room or not, it’s important to speak to all care providers in a non-confrontational and respectful way. Offer to provide additional information that’s needed during the visit, in a side conversation, or with a short note or follow-up call.
If you are the assigned healthcare agent and you have a copy of the Advance Directive or Power of Attorney, make sure to bring those documents as they should expedite the process of including you in the conversation.