Study Finds Elderly Who Take Companion to Doctor's Appointment Often More Satisfied With Visit

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  •  About a week ago, I went with my 82-year-old father to his appointment with the cardiologist. Dad had been worried about his heart and wanted to make sure that it could handle the altitude since we will be taking Mom's ashes to spread in the high altitude of the Colorado Rocky Mountains soon.


    The good news - Dad's heart is great, according to the cardiologist. The potentially scary news - he didn't hear the nurse correctly when she called out his blood pressure. Instead, he told me it was perfect, to which I replied that the number he listed was 20 points off based on what I heard the nurse say since I was sitting in the examination room with him. Fortunately, he's on medication for this issue, but I realized how easy it is for an older person not to correctly hear important medical information.

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    It turns out that our visit to Dad's doctor mirrors the research that was described in the Washington Post. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that indicates that elderly people who bring along a companion when they visit their doctor often are more satisfied with the care they receive. Dr. Jennifer L. Wolff and Dr. Debra L. Roter from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health surveyed 12,018 Medicare beneficiaries who are over 65 years old. Slightly less than 40 percent of respondents said they were regularly accompanied to medical visits by another person, most often a spouse (53 percent) or grown child (32 percent). The study found that accompanied patients were older, less educated and in worse health than those who were not accompanied.


    Sixty-four percent of the companions assisted with communication. They often were part of the interaction with the doctor, including asking questions about the elderly person's conditions and writing down the doctor's comments and instructions. The study found that elderly people who took a companion to the medical appointment reported being more satisfied with the doctor's technical skills, information-giving and interpersonal skills.

    Having a second set of eyes and ears (as well as a notetaker) sitting in on medical evaluations has proven important in both my parents' cases as they have aged. In this most recent situation with Dad (who doesn't have dementia), I was able to ask questions of the cardiologist that my father wouldn't have thought about. I was also able to share in his joy in hearing that his "ticker" was just fine.


    That's in contrast to the challenges that Dad and I faced with Mom, who often wanted to go to her appointments alone. Already showing signs of mild cognitive impairment and having some hearing loss, she'd emerge from the appointment either not having completely heard what the doctor would tell her or forgetting what the results were. Instead, her description when she came out from being examined often was that all was well.


    Thus, the study by Dr. Wolff and Dr. Roter takes on increased meaning when you have a loved one who is experiencing memory loss. Having another person in the room as an advocate for the elderly person who has dementia can ensure that the doctor's prescribed course of action is correctly followed and that all health questions are asked. That's important insurance for our loved ones who face complicating medical issues to have.

Published On: August 06, 2008