Some elders have always been wary of doctors, hospitals and medications, while others become more distrustful over the years. It makes sense that an aging loved one might refuse to go to doctor’s appointments. After all, by avoiding them, a senior can dodge any new diagnoses and information about the status of their existing health conditions. Growing older is scary for a multitude of reasons and often that fear manifests as a refusal to participate in annual physicals, diagnostic testing, preventative health care and even receive emergency medical treatments.
While the “ignorance is bliss” approach to aging is somewhat understandable, it also happens to be a major source of frustration and anxiety for family caregivers. Our job is to ensure our care recipients’ health and safety, but we can’t do that without a clear picture of their current physical and mental health.
Aging is Quite Scary, Understand Them
Dr. Robert Stall, a practicing geriatrician based in Buffalo, New York, with more than 20 years of experience, says the first step is to try to understand what is behind an elderly loved one’s refusal to go to the doctor. There are countless reasons why seniors avoid physicians, even despite showing symptoms of potentially serious conditions. Fear, denial, thriftiness, distrust, embarrassment and discomfort are common reasons that cause older individuals to dig their heels in when it’s time for an annual physical or to check out a new or worsening problem.
Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia can complicate matters further by making it difficult or even impossible to reason with a senior and drive home the importance of monitoring their health. Some older individuals even cease going to their primary care physician (PCP), whom they previously trusted and had a good doctor-patient relationship with. So, it comes as no surprise that bringing a new doctor, such as a specialist, into the mix could cause issues.
“Elders usually develop a level of trust and respect when they’ve been going to the same doctor for a long time,” explains Dr. Stall. “Adding a new person into the equation could bring on feelings of vulnerability, distrust and fear of the unknown.” Dealing with these feelings can be difficult, but there are strategies caregivers can use to work through these concerns and ensure their loved ones receive the medical care they need.
Here are four strategies to help:
- Probe deeply
Ask questions to determine why an elder refuses help — then you can tailor a solution. Is it about a lack of privacy, fears about the cost of care, losing independence or having a stranger in the house?. To build trust, listen with empathy, and validate rather than deny your loved one’s feelings.
- Offer options
If possible, include your parent in interviews or in setting schedules when hiring in-home care. Let them choose certain days of the week or times of day to have a home health aide come. Emphasize an aide will be a companion for walks, concerts, museum visits and other favorite activities.
- Prioritize problems
Make two lists, one for your loved one’s problems and another for the steps you’ve already taken — and where to get more help. If you don’t categorize your efforts, caregiving becomes this huge weight. Writing it down and numbering by priority can relieve a lot of stress.
- Use indirect approaches
If your father has dementia, offering less information may be more effective at times. You could let your parent know the aide is someone very helpful who can take your father on walks, fix him meals, and help him throughout the day. You don’t need to explain every aspect of care the aide will provide before the relationship has been formed. This may make your loved one feel less threatened.
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