Help Aging Parents: Confident People Can Become Intimidated When It Comes To Speaking With Doctors

Not Wanting to Upset The Doctor
…when he/she is their–or our–lifeline 

Last Tuesday’s NY Times, Science Times Health page devoted 2 articles–almost an entire page to–“The Trouble With ‘Doctor Knows Best.'” The second article, written by Dr. Pauline Chen calls attention to the fact that a friend, “a brilliant and accomplished academic in her 70’s” didn’t feel comfortable speaking with her doctor who was “generally warm and caring.” She, however, perceived him as too busy, uninterested in what she was feeling or wanted to say and she didn’t want him to think she was questioning his judgment and didn’t want to upset him or have him angry at her.

Efforts are–and evidently have been–made for over a generation, according to this piece, to get patients and doctors to work together to make decisions about treatment and care. And while the medical establishment and politicians evidently have been enthusiastic about the results, a recent study shows it hasn’t been satisfactory from patients’ perspectives.

The concern about one’s physician feeling certain conversations and questions may be taken as judgmental and may incur anger is no doubt on target. When our physician is our lifeline–and especially our parents’ lifeline–I think most of us tend to err on the side of diplomacy–thinking twice about what we say and how we say it.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Think about interactions with someone who has power, authority, dominance, control over our destiny–be it in the doctor’s office, the workplace, school or wherever.

Throughout my years of counseling high school students, we rehearsed little speeches–student to teacher–usually involving something “unfair” (often a grade, sometimes a reprimand, sometimes a misunderstanding).

I think the analogy is appropriate. Normally confident, successful students would feel powerless with the most warm and caring of teachers who, after all, held the key to their grade. In my highly competitive high school it translated to their college acceptance, their future–their life as they saw it.

Interestingly I think it was easier for me to successfully counsel and coach the kids and wait to get feedback that they did it right–which hopefully would empower them to successfully handle future sticky situations. (“Nothing succeeds like success,” they say).

Yet often when the parents jumped in first, fronting for their child,  it was triggered by their child’s emotions, compounded by their emotions. I recall in many cases the teachers were upset and let me know it.

And so I wonder:  Do we do better advocating for our parents in uncomfortable situations (possibly 2 layers of emotions) than they do advocating for themselves? Are we able to stand back emotionally and tactfully ask uncomfortable questions–or should someone we respect rehearse with us and empower us? Should we rehearse with and empower older parents?

To help parents (and ourselves) age well, there’s no question that sometimes uncomfortable conversations with physicians are necessary. The key is getting to the point where we feel justified and empowered to have those conversations.

Click for reasons it makes sense to accompany aging parents to doctors’ appointments.

Challenging Doctors to Help Parents–Who Are Patients–Age Well

Are We Brave Enough to Question a Doctor?

Reaching old age in relatively healthy condition involves many things. Along the way, there are the inevitable health issues that may require hospitalization.

I also think it’s safe to say that most of us just naturally want to please our parents’ doctors or at least not get on their bad side. We want to collaborate, not seem critical or questioning.  But sometimes………

While it’s not uncommon to feel stressed just thinking about having a difficult conversation, especially one that involves someone in authority, it can be more daunting when we feel we must have this kind of conversation with our parents’ doctor or other health workers who care for our parents.

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Maureen Dowd tackled this issue in her  April 13, 2011 NY Times column, informing us that–among other things– “A report in the April issue of Health Affairs indicated that one out of every three people suffer a mistake during a hospital stay.”

For those of us trying to help parents, older people or anyone age well, I think this column really is a “must-read,” especially if a hospital stay is imminent or might be in their future.