Preparing for healthcare appointments can seem daunting for both caregivers and patients. There are questions you want to ask and updates you want to give, but you may find that preparing for an appointment is an overwhelming task.
“Sometimes we have patients or family members who don’t necessarily understand the process, and it makes them feel like they don’t get the most out of their healthcare visit,” said Program Director for the DENT Integrative Center for Memory, Sarah Harlock. “However, there are steps that patients, family members and care partners can take to get the most out of appointments.”
Booking and Scheduling
After a dementia diagnosis, it can feel like there are appointments every other week. One day you may have an appointment with your physician, the next week you may need to get additional testing or imaging done. The frequency of appointments and testing can seem overwhelming at first. However, those initial tests are an important part of confirming your diagnosis and creating an appropriate treatment plan.
“Once a treatment plan has been made appointments will become less frequent. Some patients come once every three months, others every six. Depending upon your diagnosis and your needs, you and your physician will create an appointment schedule that works for you,” said Harlock.
The way patients diagnosed with memory disorders respond to appointment reminders is very individualized. Some patients enjoy keeping track of their appointments and want to be reminded in advance. Other patients may become very anxious or nervous when reminded. If as a care partner you notice that the person you’re caring for has increased anxiety leading up to an appointment, it’s okay to be sparing with reminders.
Time of day
Caregivers, try to schedule appointments that are at the patient’s best time of day.
“If person the person in your care is generally more confused and agitated in the afternoons, schedule a morning appointment,” said Harlock. “At appointments we will do in-office assessments and we want patients to feel relaxed and able to perform at their best.”
Allot enough time to get ready
“It is important that a patient is fully prepared for their appointment, so try to be mindful of that when scheduling,” said Harlock. “As a caregiver, if you know your loved takes 2 hours to get ready in the morning, maybe an 8 am appointment doesn’t make sense.”
“At each appointment, we want to make sure the patient is in the best frame of mind. Rushing them out the door to the appointment, creating stress is not a good way to achieve that optimal frame of mind,” added Harlock.
Caregivers, it is also important to be mindful of how much help your loved one needs. Is a telephone reminder enough, or has it become necessary to have someone helping them get ready for the appointment?
Preparing for the Healthcare Visit
There are many things you can do as a care partner to make the most of your loved ones healthcare visit.
Make sure the patient has their glasses, hearing aid, etc.,
“One major part of being prepared is making sure the patient has remembered their glasses or hearing aid, or anything vital to their communication. It is very difficult to assess patient if we cannot properly communicate with them,” said Harlock.
Bring an updated list of current medication
Another important piece of being prepared is having a current medication list. This list should include over the counter medicine and supplements. “
This is important, so that we know exactly what the patient is taking,” added Harlock. “The other piece to this is that caregivers are knowledgeable about how well the patient is taking their medication and there are ways to be respectful about this.”
One way you can respectfully check in with your loved one to measure how well they are taking their medicine is to say something along the lines of I’m sure you’re doing this right but just so I can answer the doctor, I need to know you are taking your mediation the way it is prescribed.’
“We have seen many patients whose family member thought they were taking their medication properly, then something happens as a result, and they realize they weren’t.” said Harlock.
Document any changes since last visit
The day before the appointment take a few moments to think about or write down the changes that have happened since the last visit.
Documenting changes in a patient’s willingness to take shower, ability to handle finances or take medication, is vital information for a provider to be continually updated on.
“Mood is also an important thing to be taking notice of. If there is a big change in mood we would like to know about that,” added Harlock. “Additionally, if there is something you cannot say, or don’t feel comfortable saying in front of the patient, write us a note. Slip the note to the medical assistant or nurse and they will get the questions to the provider who will then make sure it is addressed during the visit.”
At the Appointment
Have your list of questions ready
It is easy to be distracted by rushing to the appointment, or hearing something the provider said. This list will help you focus and on the appointment and get your questions answered.
“Be knowledgeable and honest about what the patient is capable of. If you are the caregiver for a loved on it can be difficult to share, however it is important to be honest and accurate,” added Harlock.
Take notes during the appointment so you can be mindful of what to keep an eye out for and what to mention in your next appointment.
“It is also helpful for caregivers to ask if there are any red flags to be watching for, especially with medication changes.”
Caregivers, you are part of the healthcare team! Your insight is vital in maintaining and adjusting treatment plans.
In addition, please do not wait for the next appointment to tell us about a medication side effect, or that the patient is struggling with or has stopped taking a medication,” added Harlock.
Consider bringing someone to your appointment with you who knows you. Due to the changes that are happening in your brain, even at an early stage, your perspective may not be the same as your families or friend’s. You may not be an accurately communicating or understanding what your treating provider is saying. This is not meant to be an insult, but the reality of the a cognitive impairment diagnosis.
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The content of this post is intended for general educational and informational purposes only; it does not constitute medical advice. Readers should always consult with a licensed healthcare professional for diagnosis and treatment.