How should I tell medical professionals that Mom can no longer answer their questions?

3 answers | Last updated: Sep 20, 2016
Ladl77 asked...

How do you handle telling the doctor/nurse that your mother (dementia patient) doesn't know what she's talking about when they are asking questions such as "what does your blood sugar usually run"? Up to this point I have told them that I can have the assisted living center nurse fax some recent numbers if needed. I'm not sure they understand. I have slipped notes to nurses a few times in the past.


Expert Answers

Deborah Cooke is a gerontologist specializing in dementia, delirium, caregiving, and senior fitness. She is a certified dementia care provider and specialist through the Alzheimer's Foundation of America. Cooke currently manages several multidisciplinary programs to enhance well-being for hospitalized seniors and other vulnerable patients at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. She also serves on the board of NewYork-Presbyterian's Patient and Family Education Advisory Committee. She has 18 years of experience working with the aging and caregiver communities.

This is an interesting dilemma. Informing the doctors and nurses of the dementia is definitely necessary. Any medical professional should be obtaining and completing a very thorough history and physical with her. You can ask to sit in on this, as long as it is OK with your mother. If they have done this already, request another one as conditions may have changed.

If you have expressed this condition (and give examples to support it) and they still don't get it, ask them to evaluate her for her memory. You can let them draw their conclusion from that (hopefully the correct one).

For the very specific information such as blood sugars, bring the documentation with you. Documentation goes a long way and saves some of the frustration with the questions and lack of answers. It clearly defines the problem (we all tend to forget specifics). You can even give this to your mom and have her hand the information to them. Any supporting documents, records, etc to support your mother's health should be brought with you and/or her regardless of her capacity to remember.

Each professional should still be treating your mother appropriately. You definitely don't want them to dismiss or ignore her and focus solely on you.

If you still aren't satisfied and continue to be frustrated, then seek out a new physician. Don't feel bad about making a change. Even if the current physician is a long-time doctor for your mother, still change. This is a very important issue and your mother needs to get appropriate attention and treatment. You may consider a board certified Geriatrician who is experienced with handling dementia and multiple medical problems.

Your mother is entitled to proper and good care.


Community Answers

Oldblackdog answered...

Just a note - outside of major urban areas, it is hard to impossible to find geriatricians. One friend had a lot of problems with this whenever she had to take her mom to ERs, even when they had been given information.... Her mom has moderate Alzheimer's yet can be very pleasant and charming - and would inevitably say she has no idea why she was brought there... she was fine.

My own mom has some vascular memory issues,and I've seen all sorts of Dr/s with her. I was surprised once that an orthopedic surgeon (a surgeon!)who handled her hip fracture turned out to be the best at navigating the communication. He always included her, but made sure that I got everything and gave me the chance to add or ask more.


Ca-claire answered...

It is difficult to get the Physicians to speak with my parents, while paying attention to my cues. I usually stand behind Mom and Dad so the Dr. can see me clearly, and notice if I'm nodding or shaking my head for non-verbal cues. If I stand elsewhere, the Dr. turns and just talks to me, which is difficult for Mom (strong control issues) to take. Dad is more than happy to let me worry about his health. Our Urologist is the best at dealing with the situation, he chats with them, while interspersing medical information for me. Tells them things like, he hopes that his daughter will take as good of care of him when he gets to their age as I taken care of them (He's my age).

I have to laugh, though, when the Dr's suggest that it's time to cut down on some habit (like salt). Mom/Dad are 90. They salt everything and are not going to stop now, no matter what we do.

The last time Mom was taken via ambulance to the ER, by the time she got there, she did not understand why she was there (had woken up panicking that she couldn't feel her legs). Dad and I followed in my car, so we arrived about 10 minutes after her. The ER staff was very confused. Most of the Physicians, once they see the dementia diagnosis in the chart, and the permission forms and Durable Healthcare POA on file, deal mostly with me. All phone numbers at the Dr's offices are mine.