Caregiver Rx: Taking doctor’s visits from good to great

Knowledge is power, but that doesn’t make a conversation about Alzheimer’s disease any easier.
By Home Care Assistance - January 20, 2020

Home Care Assistance is Changing the Way the World Ages. This is the latest installment of our “How To” series, where we lay out smart and easy-to-understand advice on navigating the aging process.

Whether you’re concerned about your own memory loss, or warning signs you’re noticing in a loved one, the quest for answers can sometimes feel daunting. But that’s not a reason to ignore red flags.

More and more, we see the benefits of diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease earlier on. Having accurate information helps you understand exactly what you’re dealing with. It allows you to tap into your support network, or play a more active role in someone else’s. True, too, for using medication effectively, making a treatment plan, and ensuring someone with Alzheimer’s gets the kind of caregiving they need to continue living a full, happy life.

Seeing warning signs is one thing. Taking action and contacting the doctor about your concerns is quite another. Eliminating the fear from both these steps can make a huge difference and help set you and your loved ones on the path to proactively managing Alzheimer’s so it doesn’t manage you.

Keeping these three things in mind as you prepare to raise your concerns at a doctor’s appointment can help:

  1. You can go it alone. But you don’t have to.

    Whether you’re worried about signs you’re seeing in yourself or a loved one, teaming up to tackle a doctor’s appointment together is a good thing. When it comes to digesting medical information and planning for the future, two heads are always better than one. On a practical level, having a friend or relative with you during an appointment means you both hear the same information, and will have someone to bounce ideas and questions around with later, as you digest. Even more poignantly, having someone you trust and care about in the room can make an emotional conversation with your physician easier to navigate. Think about who you’d like with you for this important appointment, and bring them into the loop now.
     
  2. Help paint the picture. Details make a real difference.

    Symptoms are important. Being able to explain to the doctor what you or a loved one has been experiencing in detail can do wonders for their ability to reach a diagnosis, and provide guidance. Prep for your appointment by listing out the symptoms that are giving you pause. Think about when the symptoms began, whether they’re becoming worse over time, and any factors that seem to aggravate the situation. With that in mind, take a minute to jot down some broad strokes on general health, too. What else has changed, or is changing? Are there any new medications in play? Have there been big changes or stressors at home? The more insight a physician has into the overall picture of your health, the better able they’ll be to narrow down potential causes – Alzheimer’s or otherwise – and get to the heart of the matter.
     
  3. Come ready with questions. Be open to answering.

    Even on our best days, heading into an appointment with concerns can be nerve-wracking. Writing down your questions in advance can help ease anxiety at the front end, and ensure you’re getting the best possible information on the back end. You don’t want to be dreaming up questions about a condition or diagnosis in real time. That approach can leave you feeling frazzled or uninformed when you leave. Where should you begin? Coming prepared to ask what a diagnosis means, which additional tests might be required, what treatment options exist, which medications are available, what you can expect in terms of disease progression and where you can access resources are all good places to start.

To get as fulsome a view of what to expect as possible, try adding this to the list: What else should I ask that I haven’t? That approach opens the dialogue up further, and enables the doctor to share experiences, anecdotes, and learnings they’ve picked up along the way.

Taking notes and asking for printed materials to take home can tee you up to calmly review information at your own pace, in the comfort of your own home.

Above all: try to be open and honest. Sugar-coating symptoms or downplaying concerns hamper your physician’s ability to figure out what’s really going on. Overcoming fear and aiming to be as transparent as possible in your answers can impact your ability to manage whatever comes your way.

Closing thoughts

When we take down the barriers and open ourselves up to good conversations, we can make the most of any doctor’s appointment. Great dialogue drives better health outcomes by alleviating fear, eliminating misinformation, and empowering patients with facts to use and ideas that may help.

References

Alzheimer’s Society Canada

HealthLink BC

Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

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