Stages of Dementia and Managing Doctor Visits: 5 Tips

 Stages of Dementia

Medical check-ups and consultations are a fact of life. No one enjoys the necessary pap, prostate, breast or the much dreaded colonoscopy exam. Most of us go with some trepidation – but eventually, we go.

If going to the doctor is a burden for us, imagine what it’s like for someone suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s. It should come as no surprise when a loved one with memory loss puts off going to the doctor – who can blame them? Hearing potential bad news is enough to make anyone come up with more excuses than a kid who didn’t do their homework.

Mom was no different – but there was a catch. Even before dementia, mom avoided visits to the doctor like the plague!

A person who spent their entire life being wary of doctors is going to be a challenge to get to those appointments no matter what stage of dementia they are in. And I should know.

Before working with thousands of clients I did the same thing that many caregivers do…I told mom that she had an appointment. Talk about setting us up for failure!

Mom took each of my appointment reminders in stride and appeared to go along with the schedule as planned. I arranged my schedule (with two young kids – not an easy feat) and called Mom and Dad the night before so that we were all on the same page. The morning of her doctor visit I called to remind that I was driving 30 miles in rush hour traffic so they should be ready.

However, once I walked into their home, mom calmly told me that she wasn’t going to go to the doctor. Frustrated…a little. Furious…a lot!

With over 25 years of personal experience as a caregiver and professional who specializes in dementia, I have learned that to get a person with any form of memory loss to doctor appointments requires creativity and perseverance.

In my dementia book, “Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias: The Caregiver’s Complete Survival Guide” I guide you through over 13 tips and explanations that will help you successfully get your loved one to doctor visits, no matter what stage of dementia they are in.

For many caregivers, there comes a time when you have to draw the line. Here are five steps to get a person with dementia to the doctor:

1. If you’re loved one is in the early stages of dementia call them with the date and have them write the appointment in on their calendar. This will be an initial test to see how they react. But prepare yourself for excuses.

2. If the person is anxious, avoid giving too much advance warning. Call them the night before and light heartedly say, “Mom, I just checked the calendar and tomorrow you have an appointment with Dr. X. I’ll pick you up and we will have breakfast/lunch/dinner before or after.” This eliminates the chance of excuses.

3. Tell your loved one that you are picking them up for breakfast/lunch/dinner. Once they are in the car tell them that the doctor called you earlier and that you have to drop some papers off at Dr. X’s office. Have them come in with you so they are not waiting in the car. When you get to the front desk (which you have pre-arranged with the office staff) have them tell you that there was a cancellation and that the doctor can see you both now as a courtesy.

4. A little loving deception can go a long way. Tell Mom that YOU have an appointment with Dr. X and that you want her to be there with you for support.

5. In some cases you may need to use whatever works. Threats: “I’m not doing X until you go to your doctor appointment.” Guilt: “I love you and need to be sure you are healthy.” Figure out what will get to them enough to get them there.

Since each situation, person, relationship, and stage of dementia is different, the way you handle this will vary. What works for one person or family, may not work for another. The best thing to do is have patience, and prepare for the possibility of this being a difficult caregiver process. 

Image courtesy of Michael Carian

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