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Ever found yourself (or as a caregiver for your spouse, mom or dad) sitting across from a doctor and feeling like they’re not hearing you? At all?

Most of us pine for the days when we had home town doc who delivered us, knows everything about us–and cared that we stay alive.

Not that most ever had that–but it sure sounds good, doesn’t it?

As a caregiver to my mom who had Parkinson’s, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s, trust me, I’ve spent a whole lott of time in doctor’s offices.

I did a little research on-line to find out various ways to find a good doctor, and here’s what I uncovered.

What to look for in a good doctor:

  • You can’t beat a recommendation from someone you know–a friend or co-worker.
  • Make sure they’re board certified in their field. This is crucial because it can be deceptive.
  • Visit the doctor’s office before making your appointment. Look around–is the staff fussy? Do they look miserable? Time how long it takes for a person to be seen. Ask the staff how long they’ve worked for the doctor, if they can tell you a little about him or her, or how long the doctor spends with each patient and see how you’re treated. If you hear alarm bells go off in your head, then keep looking.
  • Get a doctor you like to recommend a doctor they like (if you’re looking for a specialist or in another field) because good doctors tend to hang out (aka play golf) with other good doctors.
  • Check out some online sites that review credentials, awards and distinctions, as well as a rating system for his office and staff. Ckeck out RateMDS.com, Healthgrades.com,  ChoiceTrust.com or Vitals.com.
  • Remember you’re the client. You’re paying, and you should be treated with respect. Sorry to say, but no doctor is going to spend as much time with you as you probably would like, but they should listen to you, be competent in their assessments, and know their field of medicine well.
  • If you do feel that you need to stay with this doctor (perhaps because of location, specialty, or insurance), then here are a few helpful tactics.

How to Communicate Effectively With Your Doctor and His/Her Staff:

  • Repeat over and over: I am 100% responsible for my life. (And if you’re a caregiver, then you’re also responsible for someone else’s). Don’t leave your medical issues completely in someone else’s hands, even if those hands are attached to a physician. You should know what medications you’re on, what course of treatments you’ve agreed to–at all times.
  • Chat with the staff and get to know them. Bribe them with a tin of chocolate popcorn or stop by near a holiday with a gift card to a local restaurant or coffee p. Hey, it’s hard to resist someone who takes an interest in you, and that’s exactly what you’re doing–remember the old Golden Rule? Still applies. Ask about the picture of their kids, and use their name when you’re talking with them. This is just being considerate, but it comes in handy when you’ve got an earache and you call begging to be seen that day.
  • Start out your relationship with your doctor by shaking hands (dressed), and looking him/her in the eye. Let them know that you expect to be treated as an equal. You are–you hold a needed job in your community (or you did if you were retired), and  you are intelligent and articulate. Without being bossy or demanding, let him/her know that you’d like this to be a warm and professional relationship.
  • Go to the doctor’s office in a good mood! Be a  ray of sunshine to others around you. Be on time, don’t gripe about the little things, joke around with the staff–and watch how differently you’re treated. Take your knitting or your favorite magazine and get to know the person you’re sitting next to. Life is happening everywhere–even in doctor’s offices.
  • Write your questions down and keep them brief–but make sure you go home with answers. Also write down their answers or directions. Don’t expect their directions to make sense–put it in your own words and have a clear plan of action you can follow when you leave the doctor”s office. Don’t be intimidated with medical jargon, but also let them know that they’re not talking to a pre-schooler.
  • Do your homework–go on the Internet, check out your condition and possible drugs, treatments, symptoms, and side effects. You don’t even have to mention it since some doctors find this annoying or intimidating and a few others mght applaud you for being pro-active. Either way, it’s your health at stake so you have every right to educate yourself, but know that not all Internet medicine is accurate.
  • If you don’t feel you’re being heard, then be clear. Ask a pointed question and make sure you get an answer. You have a right to know what’s going on. Start out asking in a firm and clear manner, but don’t give up. Restate the question and ask again.
  • Don’t settle for being shoved a pill if you don’t want one. Medicine has sadly become entwined with the pharmaceutical industry and we forget that there are other alternatives and compliments to drug therapy. Let them know what kind of patient you are, and state what types of treatments you’ll consider–or won’t consider.
  • Consider holistic medicine as a complement to your main physician. Have you tried accupuncture for aiding in quitting smoking? Or for arthritis? Eastern based practices are now more mainstream than ever, and many of their benefits have been documented.
  • Write down your doctor’s names, your prescriptions and dosage and keep it in your wallet at all times. If you fall or lose conciousness, it’s imperative the the EMS workers and ER staff know this information. Don’t rely on the doctor or his chart–and realize that if you see more than one doctor and they’re not aware of the other’s medications, you could potentially have some serious drug interactions.
  • Speak up if there’s error. It happens all the time. Dosages get written down incorrectly. The doctor orders another round of chemo and you don’t want it–or you can’t take that amount–or your insurance won’t pay for a particular treatment. Don’t get upset, but do speak up–remember that 100% responsible for your own life mantra I mentioned earlier.
  • Say thank you when you leave. Shake the doctor’s hands, and even if he or his staff act rushed or inconsiderate, then make it a point to show them how to be considerate. The amazing Maya Angelou said, “We teach people how to treat us.”

My last bit of advice might sound strange, but try to not have your entire life evolve around your medical conditions.

I know that there are times when it may seem like it does–and if you have cancer or Parkinson’s, or you’re the caregiver to a loved one that has Alzheimer’s, then you probably spend a lot of time at the doctor’s office, rehabilitation, physical therapy, and in the hospital. It can be exhausting and  overwhelming, but when you can take a mental or physical break–take it. It’s not healthy to live at the doctor’s office and dwell on being sick. Honestly, it won’t make you well. Follow your regimen, take your meds, do your treatments, but keep your mind on living and learning–on your family, on leaving a legacy, on your garden, your Tai Chi, and of course,  your grandchildren.

The medical community is there to care for you. As an individual or a caregiver, you have to take the initiative and draw the best out of those around you. Be responsible for yourself, have a goal, cultivate positive attitude and a spirit of gratitude   and state clearly what you want and need. You just might get it.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author, Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

www.mothering-mother.com

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It’s called social convention abilities, or social response abilities, which means your loved one who you know has dementia/Alzheimer’s, can get their act “together” in front of the doctor or some other person and talk or act fine.

 

It can seem as if you’ve been tricked.

How can a person who doesn’t remember their own son or daughter, keeps their purse in the freezer and thinks that trees are talking to them act completely normal in front of a stranger? 

 

Social convention means that all those years we’ve walked past someone and said, “Hello, how are you? I’m fine” are now hard-wired in our brains.

 

We answer without thinking.

We sit up straighter when someone we don’t know enters the room, we  act polite when we’re talking to a stranger, or wave when waved to, smile, even laugh at the appropriate pause in the story.

 

Professional care providers and those who work in the mental health field know about this, but I haven’t heard it discussed among caregivers–and this is important to know.

 

A person can access this ability when they’re in a new setting or with new people (stimulation) and they can act perfectly fine when just a few minutes ago they were having a conversation with a tree!

 

This can be very frustrating. You were worried, got them dressed, killed yourself to get to the appointment on time–and now they’re chatting it up with the nurse. 

 

The behavior you’ve observed at home is the “real deal.”

 

You have to insist on getting them the proper care and treatment based on what you witness 24/7, not on the five minutes in the doctor’s office.

 

This doesn’t mean your loved one doesn’t have dementia/Alzheimer’s.It doesn’t mean they don’t need meds or assistance.

 

Don’t let this fool you.

 

You’re not crazy, but it can feel like you are.

 

I hated when my mom did this–I felt like such an idiot for traipsing to the doctor yet again for my mother to say no, her knee didn’t hurt, no, she wasn’t having headaches. Then, they’d all look at me as if I were making the whole thing up!

 

Memory and recognition will vacillate.

Your loved one will remember who you are, and then forget. They will remember their spouse has passed, and then insist you take them to see them. It can throw you.

 

 

 

Caregivers are in a unique role.

They’re the bridge between their loved one and the medical world. Sometimes they’re ignored. Other times, they take over too much. It seems like you can’t get it right. No matter what you do, it’s too much or not enough.

 

Some physicians know about social convention abilities and understand it’s a normal human response to stimulus. But many doctors don’t know about this. Don’t think your doctor is well-informed about the nuances of Alzheimer’s. Unless they’re a specialist in this field, they probably don’t.

 

Hold your ground.

It’s in those off hours when they think no one is looking, or right after waking, or those middle of the night ordeals–that’s you witness the ravages of this disease. That’s for real–

 

Dementia and Alzheimer’s symptoms to appear to come and go, particularly in the earlier stages. These diseases don’t go away.

 

They may plateau for awhile, but sadly, this isn’t a disease you can recover from.

 

Caregiving is challenging enough without these incongruities.

But it’s part of the package.

 

What can I do to convince the doctor that I’ve brought my husband/wife/mom/dad there for a valid reason?

 

  • Keep a journal. Write down the times and events that concern you. This will help you track the disease.
  • Check into sundowning–many people with dementia Alzheimer’s experience heightened symptoms at night.
  • If you have to, video tape your loved one’s behavior. Neurologists can recognize patterns and symptoms by the way a person shuffles when they walk, use their hands, the type of tremors they exhibit and by their speech patterns. This can be helpful in diagnosing them.
  • Realize your loved one can have more than one disease. You may be experiencing an overlap in illnesses and additional treatment/medication may be required.
  • Have a friend or sibling on speed dial. After you care for your loved one or go to the doctor visit–call them and vent! You need to be able to get your emotions and frustrations out on the table.  
  • Speak to the doctor or nurse separately about your concerns. Make sure they’re recording you on paper. You need to present yourself in a pleasant, but firm manner. Some doctor’s like when a caregiver is knowledgeable, some don’t. Be prepared for either case.

You are crucial to your loved one’s care. You have the ability to notice things before anyone. Don’t let anyone second guess what you know in your gut.

The next time you loved one pulls a fast one on you, smile and quietly take charge. You are their lifeline, their voice.

Don’t be afraid to speak up.

 

I’m Carol O’Dell, author of Mothering Mother.This an other caregiving topics are covered in my book–I hope you’ll check out–click here, to go to the Amazon link.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

People can cover up how bad a situation is—and we’re all too willing to believe it because we need things to stay the same. We need our loved ones to be okay—but sometimes, they’re not.

 

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