While being my parent’s caregiver to my Dad, with Alzheimer’s disease, and Mom, with Vascular dementia, there were many hard lessons I had to learn. One example that stands out in my mind is the hardship of keeping doctors’ appointments. I truly do not believe we ever had even one such appointment go smoothly, especially with my father.
Once while I was trying to kill two birds with one stone, I tried scheduling an appointment for myself at the same time since both our doctors were in the same building. Big mistake. I had Dad checked in to see his physician first. When he was finished, I asked the receptionists (all five of them) to please keep an eye on him in the lobby while I walked down the hall to my examination room. When I returned, Dad was nowhere to be found! If my blood pressure wasn’t high before, it was certainly off the charts then! Dashing out the main door I found him roaming the parking lot which is a very dangerous place for anyone living with dementia. The anxiety that results from a foray like this can actually last for days, his and mine.
My advice here is this: If at all possible, have a third party accompany you to appointments of any kind. This way, if you need to speak with the doctor in private or even use the bathroom alone, the extra person can attend to your loved one.
Another deep concern I have is a very common complaint I hear from fellow caregivers, “I’m not receiving enough help from our doctor.” I certainly understand their vexation. I found myself switching doctors several times myself. It’s my opinion since there is no cure for Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related diseases, some physicians become stagnant and blasé. They are simply not aggressive enough. They don’t seem to realize there are two people in need of care—the patient and the caregiver.
Please know it is extremely difficult switching to a new doctor. There’s a feeling of security in staying with the same one for a lengthy period of time. Then there is also a concern—thoughtful, but misguided—about hurting the doctor’s feelings after building a doctor-patient relationship. You will need to get over this.
If it should become necessary to find a new doctor, make every attempt to ensure expectations can be reasonably met. Caregivers become overtired and worn down, so only make this decision with careful thought when well-rested.
There is another reason for choosing the optimal opportunity for this new direction. Be aware that changing physicians will be time consuming and may incur additional costs such as copying and transferring medical files along with requiring new lab tests.
Your first question to yourself should be, “What type of doctor treats patients who are living with dementia?” A primary care physician should be able to handle most of your needs. However, should you need a specialist for other medical concerns, be assured neurologists, geriatric psychiatrists and geriatricians, ideally, all receive training in the evaluation and treatment of memory disorders.
I have a few suggestions for you. If there have been problems, see if you can iron things out with your doctor first before switching. Remember any type of change is difficult for persons living with dementia. Ask for a moment alone with your physician in these circumstances in order to explain how you feel and what changes need to be made to best care for your loved one. If your doctor is not willing to listen and consider your concerns, you have your answer! Find a physician who will.
Also, it’s a great idea to ask the doctor if you can record any conversations they are having with the person living with dementia. Being able to play it back on a later date, may help both of you immensely.
Prepare for your visit at least a day ahead of time by having all questions and concerns written down. If there’s an issue you may not want to address in front of your loved one, call the office in advance and ask to have notes of the topics placed in the charts. There will be times when questions are better received coming from their physician and not a family member.
Gary Joseph LeBlanc
Director of Education
Dementia Spotlight Foundation