Taking Your Elderly Parent to the Doctor – What to do Before, During, and After

Daughter with elderly mother at doctor's appointmentTaking your elderly parent to the doctor for regular and consistent health screenings are especially essential to preventing, diagnosing, and treating diseases that are more likely to occur with age. However, no matter how positive the idea of going to a doctor may be, many senior adults avoid visiting a physician altogether out of fear. While some older adults may worry about their doctor ignoring their concerns, others may fear revealing aspects of their medical history, and still others may be anxious about any diagnoses or feedback they receive.

Taking the following steps before, during, and after your aging parent’s doctor appointment can ease their worries and increase their optimism about seeing their physician. Your support can also set the stage for improved health outcomes. 

I’ve learned much along the way, caring for my mother for over 10 years. We’ve visited several primary care providers and specialists in oncology, hematology, neurosurgery, and more. I hope you find these tips from myself and other caregiver friends to be helpful. 


Gather Details and Records Before the Appointment

Take the time to educate yourself on your parent’s medical history and familiarize yourself with conditions, terminology and prognoses relevant to your mom’s or dad’s experience. The more precise and accurate your parent and you can be about your health concerns, the better equipped a healthcare provider will be to  address your loved one’s health matter. 

Talk with your parent to learn about any diseases, surgeries, and procedures they’ve had as well as all medications and supplements they take. You’ll want to note any major life changes such as divorce, the death of a family member or friend, or a change in residence as these can also impact your parent’s overall health and wellness. Consider asking your parent the following questions.

  • Are you experiencing any new or persistent symptoms? If so, when did these symptoms start, how long do they last, and how often do they occur?
  • Have you noticed any changes in your physical abilities? If so, what are those changes, and how long have you been experiencing them?
  • When you take your medications, do you notice any side effects? How long do they last, and how have you typically managed them?

If you’re unfamiliar with the doctor’s office you’ll be visiting, call them ahead of your appointment. With your preemptive call,  you can take care of any paperwork, learn any rules on your presence in the examination room, and fulfill any requirements to serve as a proxy for your parent. Check out this article on advance health care planning to gain more insights on making healthcare decisions for the senior adult in your life.

You may also ask the office to note any cognitive issues on your parent’s record if visiting for the first time. If your parent is anything like my mother and wants their independence to be recognized, despite any cognitive issues they may or may not be aware of, preparing the doctor before the visit can be helpful. My other often states the opposite of what she really means due to a brain tumor. Before her vision exam with a new optometrist, I informed the staff that it would be best if they moved slowly through the vision test and confirmed her answers to make sure the evaluation was accurate.

Don’t forget to lock in your appointment day travel arrangements. If you plan on visiting multiple healthcare providers during the same day,  map out a route to move your parent’s day along and avoid any traffic delays. If you intend to meet your parent at the visit, be sure to arrange for their separate medical transport or rideshare.


Be Attentive and Mindful of Your Parent’s Comfort Level Throughout the Visit

It may be easy to forget that your mom or dad is at the center of the visit, and their health and overall comfort are priorities.  They are still your parentwhich means they have the right to conduct their interactions with medical professionals as they desire to the best of their ability. 

Ask your parent if they’d like to check themselves in and assist them with any portal or mobile check-ins if they want your help. Don’t overtalk or interrupt them as they are speaking with members of the medical staff. Do encourage the doctor and staff to address your parent directly if that is your parent’s preference, and do listen attentively. If you notice that your parent has left out important details on their concerns or symptoms, a simple question of, “Mom, may I share with your doctor what we discussed the other night?” helps maintain their dignity and privacy throughout the interaction.


Follow Up Promptly to Confirm Visit Details and Next Steps

Once you and your parent have completed your appointment, conducting timely follow-up ensures you are on the right track. The medical staff will provide you with a paper or digital after-visit report which captures all of the information shared and the doctor’s instructions for care. Be sure to review this report to make any corrections to anything misstated during the visit. While doctors that treat elderly patients understand that patient information is not always accurate, do not delay correcting misinformation, which can be easily done by speaking to the doctor’s nurse or leaving a message on the patient portal.

Verify your doctor’s directives and check any notes for next steps, lab tests, or screenings. Schedule referrals and follow-up appointments as soon as possible to avoid treatment delays. Wholistic care leads to better outcomes and coordination can be challenging when the doctors you see are across multiple networks. To keep all parties aware of health changes and new care plans, request that hospitalization records and test results be forwarded to the primary care provider and other specialists, as they may need to make treatment or medication modifications. 

Finally, take the time to debrief with your parent about their medical visit, as this serves as another opportunity to extend care and compassion to them. What did they like or dislike about the visit? Confirm that they understood any medical or biological language that was used and explain in simple terms if needed. If they were reluctant to share information, ask them why. Request if there is anything more you can do to help communicate their concerns with the doctor. Check to see if they wish to change healthcare providers. Again, this simple follow-up can help alleviate stress for future visits and help you gain a better understanding of how to support your mom or dad with their health needs.

Enjoy the journey.