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Improving Communication Between Seniors and Doctors

Senior woman speaking to her doctor
Today’s seniors belong to a generation that tends to view doctors as authority figures who are not to be questioned. That mindset keeps many seniors from having the conversations they need to have with their healthcare providers.

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During a recent webinar on patient/doctor communication, Dr. Amy D’Aprix, Executive Director of the DAI Foundation, shared the following story:

“My father was referred to a urologist because he was having trouble urinating. I spoke with him right after the appointment and he said to me, ‘Well, I feel good. The doctor assured me it isn’t prostate cancer.’ And I said, ‘Oh Dad that’s great! Well, what did the doctor say about the problem you’re having urinating?’ And his response to me was ‘Not much.’ And I asked him, ‘Well did you mention it to the doctor?’ And he said, ‘No, I figured if it was important, he would have brought it up.’”

The experience Dr. Amy’s dad had at his doctor appointment is one many older adults share. Today’s seniors belong to a generation that tends to view doctors as authority figures who are not to be questioned. That mindset keeps many seniors from having the conversations they need to have with their healthcare providers, and unfortunately, the consequences of poor communication may be quite significant.

In cooperation with the American Society on Aging, the Home Instead® network sponsored a web seminar in which Dr. Amy discussed the following methods for senior care professionals to support seniors and their families with information and resources that will help to ensure more effective communication between seniors and their doctors.

Preparing for an Appointment

  • Encourage older adults and their family caregivers to put together a comprehensive medical history and bring a copy along to appointments, especially when visiting a new doctor. The history should include information such as doctor’s names, medications, insurance info, allergies, past health issues and treatments, etc. For a complete guide to preparing a medical history, download worksheets and checklists from
  • Recommend that seniors prepare a list of questions ahead of time focusing on the specific issue being evaluated at the appointment.
  • Do what you can to accommodate extra time for senior patients to process what they learn during their visit and ask you questions.

During the Appointment

  • Sit face-to-face with the senior, speak clearly and speak audibly.
  • Encourage the senior to take notes and offer to provide follow-up instructions in writing.
  • Include family members in the discussion if appropriate.

Legal Documentation

Encourage families to be proactive about completing the necessary documentation to prepare for medical situations in which the senior is no longer able to communicate his or her wishes. These Advance Medical Directives may include:

  • A healthcare proxy
  • A durable power of attorney, also known as a power of attorney for healthcare or patient advocate designation
  • A living will
  • A “do not resuscitate” order

While discussing end-of-life issues are never easy, it’s important for seniors to have these conversations with their families. When the time comes for families to carry out their loved one’s final wishes, they’ll be able to make decisions with peace of mind, knowing exactly what their loved one wanted.

Refer families to the 40-70 Rule® for guidance through these types of discussions. The idea is that when the children are 40 or the senior is 70, it’s time to start talking.

As a healthcare professional, you can help seniors become active partners in managing their own health. Navigating the healthcare system can be confusing and overwhelming for anyone, so working together with seniors and their families to improve communication will help ensure they’re receiving the best care possible.

Learn more by viewing the full Patient/Doctor Communication webinar. To participate in future webinars like these and earn free CEU credits, view the webinar series schedule.

Last revised: February 14, 2012

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