Be sensitive when accompanying elder to appointments
Dear Carol: My mother is relatively healthy for a 76-year-old woman but she's overcome cancer twice and I worry about losing her. She doesn't show any signs of dementia, which I know because she actually went through screening with a specialist to prove to me that she is capable of doing what she wants. She does want me to accompany her to the doctor, and I'm power of attorney for her health, but she says that I take over the appointment when we're there. I try not to do that, but I want the doctor to know that Mom takes risks like shoveling light snow rather than waiting for the people who are paid to do it and doing exercises without someone around to make sure she doesn't fall. She says that what she does isn't risky and she's careful, so she gets angry with me when I interrupt her at the doctor's to ask his opinion. Should I not tell him what she does? — MW
Dear MW: I can understand your frustration because you love your mom, you've come close to losing her twice, and it's scary to see her take a risk that could be the final blow, but I'd suggest that you sit back and put yourself in your mom's place.
Your mom's beaten cancer twice. She wants to feel like a capable person who can do things around her home and take care of her body. The examples that you mentioned don't sound terribly risky for a healthy person her age, and she does sound like she is now healthy. Your fear of losing her may be causing you to be excessively concerned.
If your mom feels that you'll keep her from doing activities that she enjoys, even if they are a little risky, she may no longer talk with you about her day-to-day activities and then you'll have a harder time knowing when she truly needs help. It often pays to tread carefully.
Have a gentle discussion with her about your concerns when it comes to what you view as risks. Also, talk about mutual expectations for your interaction with the doctor at medical appointments. At this point, she might simply need your younger memory and the emotional support she feels with you there, plus the knowledge that you'll be there when she needs more help.
If, for now, you confine your questions to medical ones such as how to use a new medication, your mom may learn to trust that if, down the road, you do ask the doctor about issues that worry you your concern may be valid. As time goes on, you will find that the need for more of your input is necessary, so building this trust now is important.
Even when your mom needs more intervention during the medical appointments, take care not to ignore her while you talk with the doctor. She has a right to be the focus of her own appointments and make her feelings known.
Carol Bradley Bursack is an established columnist, blogger, and the author of a support book on caregiving. She hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. Carol can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.