Communicating with Your Doctor

As dementia progresses, your loved one’s physician will be an invaluable resource for you. You need to be able to ask questions and effectively communicate your concerns. These are our tips to make the most out communication with your loved one’s doctor:

Have a physician that you trust.

This is SO IMPORTANT! Because your loved one has a complex health concern, you need a doctor who won’t rush you, who will listen, and who will act upon concerns when appropriate. If you don’t feel like you can trust your loved one’s doctor or if you feel like the doctor doesn’t have your loved one’s best interest at heart, go to a new doctor.

As much as possible, avoid discussing issues in front of your loved one.

If possible, communication with the physician should not be conducted in front of your loved one.  No one likes to be talked about, and it can be embarrassing to have your issues discussed like you’re not there.  Be sensitive to this.

Work with the physician’s office on how to communicate concerns.

The doctor may prefer you send a message on the patient portal, call, or hand in a note when you arrive.  Ask the nurse if their office has a preferred method of communication.

Be honest with the doctor.

Now is not the time to protect your loved one’s reputation.  Be honest with the physician about what is going on.  If your love done is drinking alcohol, don’t hide it.  Alcohol could affect many medications and your doctor needs to know.  If a new issue has come up, don’t downplay it in the hopes it will resolve itself.

Be descriptive but concise.

It is one thing to say, “My husband is aggressive.”  It is another thing to say, “My husband verbally threatens me;” or “He throws things and shoves me.”  Aggressive does not paint a clear picture.  Be specific without being long-winded.

Ask questions.

If you don’t understand the need for a medication, ask.  If you don’t understand what test results mean, ask for clarification.  If you don’t understand a diagnosis, ask for more information.

Report significant changes.

Examples could be a sudden increase in libido, changes in appetite, increased gambling, etc.

Keep a list of questions and concerns.

Jot them down in a notebook or on your phone.  You may forget your questions in the moment, so it’s always good to have a reminder.  Your family might find it helpful to use a calendar to jot down things you notice – especially if multiple family members care for your loved one.  Then, you can all compare notes.  You might find that other family members notice similar or different behavior changes to what you observe.