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How Can I Get My Senior Parent To Go To The Doctor

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You know it’s been a long time since your senior parent went to a doctor. You can’t recall exactly how long and you don’t like to, since it makes you feel anxious. In any case, you’re trying to encourage your aging parent to schedule a return visit, but they refuse.

How can you get them to change their mind? If your senior parent won’t go to the doctor, you can always try bringing the doctor to them, if addressing their fears won’t work. Consider a telehealth (video visit) or search for a doctor who does house calls. 

In today’s article, we’ll examine the motivations behind a senior’s refusal to see a doctor, as well as what you can do to hopefully get your family member to change their mind about doctor’s appointments, so keep reading! 

Why Do Old People Refuse To Go To The Doctor?

You may not exactly be the picture of health yourself, but you always make it a point to keep up with your doctor visits at least once a year. 

That was something your older parent taught you – the same parent who is now giving you a hard time about going to medical appointments.

What is the issue? 

There are many reasons why older adults refuse doctor appointments, some of which are perfectly logical and others which might not make sense to you.

Here are some of those reasons:

They Don’t Want To Hear That They’re Getting Worse

Your parent’s health may be good enough right now, but at their age, how long is that going to last? 

They know that they only have so long on this earth and that their health will likely decline more than it has already.

They can deny the symptoms to themselves, but once they’re faced with a doctor telling them what’s wrong, it’s a lot harder to deny it. 

It’s easier for older people to just put their adult children off each time they ask about going to the doctor than actually going and facing one’s mortality. 

They’re Afraid Of Being Diagnosed With Something New

Your senior parent might also be scared of what those new aches and pains are or why their joints are suddenly so stiff when they were never quite so bad before.

If they already have several health concerns, then being diagnosed with a new one is the last thing they want. That’s especially true if they’re starting to have issues with memory loss.

It’s better to just keep denying, denying, denying, and avoiding a doctor’s visit than face the facts, at least in the eyes of your elderly parent. 

They’re Embarrassed Because It’s Been So Long

Have you ever skipped a dental appointment for a few years? You’re so mortified at the long gap that you almost never want to go back.

Well, the same logic can very much present itself in your senior parent’s aversion to seeing their medical providers.

It’s been so long that they don’t want to answer questions from their primary care doctor about why they haven’t been in sooner. They also don’t want to be scolded.

They Don’t Trust Doctors

The issue could even boil down to the fact that your senior parent doesn’t believe in doctors or trust that a doctor has their best interest at heart.

Whether it’s age-related paranoia, dementia / Alzheimer’s disease, or just a firmly-held belief, your senior parent thinks that all doctors are quacks and that the doctor can’t do anything for them that they can’t do for themselves. 

Can You Force Someone To See A Doctor?

You’ve tried reasoning and pleading with your elderly parent about the importance of regular checkups and seeing a doctor, especially at their age, but to no avail.

You’re not sure what else to do at this point. Can you force your parent into going to a doctor?

Well, technically, you could lie to them about where you’re taking them, put them in the car, lock the doors, and refuse to let your parent out until they agree to go inside the doctor’s office.

However, that’s not right. You will wholly erode your senior parent’s trust in you, and rightfully so!

Another situation in which you could force medical treatment is if you have a legal document that shows you are your elderly parent’s guardian.

It’s been a while since we’ve discussed guardianship on the blog, but this is a right that’s granted to you by a court of law.

It often takes years to become a guardian, so that’s a long time your senior parent would have to go without seeing a doctor.

Overall, forcing your parent into a decision is going to majorly backfire.

We wouldn’t recommend it unless you’ve exhausted all your other options. 

Even then, try to think of a more agreeable solution first. 

How Do You Convince An Older Person To See A Doctor?

Okay, so forcing your senior parent to see a doctor is out of the question. You understand that now.

What other options do you have at your disposal?

There are a variety of ways you can try that might just change your parent’s mind and get them to agree to see a doctor! 

Appeal To Them

If you and your parent have butted heads when trying to get them to the doctor for any type of care before, change your approach this time around.

Go about the conversation gently. Tell your parent how concerned you are about them because it’s been X years since they’ve seen a doctor.

Explain that you understand their reluctance, but that seeing a doctor is important and something they should not skip.

It will be a big help if you don’t scold them and don’t turn it into a lecture, either.

Instead, take the angle that you care very much for their health (which you do) and play that up. 

You’re trying to elicit sympathy from your senior parent, enough so that they might finally feel convinced to call their doctor. 

Offer To Go Together 

You want to make it as easy as possible for your senior parent to see the doctor. 

If you’re allowed, you might offer to pick up the phone and schedule the appointment for them. 

You could even book the appointment online if you understand how all that works and your senior parent doesn’t.

Be sure to offer to go to the doctors’ appointments with your parent. Tell them that you understand how they feel anxious and afraid but that you would be right there by their side the entire time, holding their hand and offering encouragement.

I did this when my 98 year old father was reluctant to go to a new doctor (a cardiologist) because he was afraid of being put on medication that would make him groggy (this was his past experience with it).

We drew up a list of questions and went to his new physician together.

The doctor answered Dad’s specific concerns and went over a treatment plan with him step by step, which made Dad feel better about going back for regular care.

Family caregivers who are in a similar situation may find that the offer to go with their elderly parent may change their mind. Or it may not, but it’s worth suggesting anyway. 

Ask Others To Get Involved

If your pleas fell upon deaf ears, it’s okay to feel hurt, but try not to let it derail you for too long. Remember, the goal here is to get your parent to see a doctor, not to sulk.

Perhaps you need a bigger team to finally inspire your senior to pick up the phone and call.

You could involve your other parent (if they’re still alive), your adult siblings, your aunts and uncles, and even a close friend or some community members of your senior parent’s. 

Hopefully, if you weren’t able to do it, someone else in your parent’s circle can get through to them. 

Bring The Doctor To Them

If none of the above measures work, don’t panic. You still have one more option, and it’s your ace in the hole.

You can, as we discussed in the intro, always bring your parent’s doctor to them.

A telehealth video appointment over the phone or computer is a great way to at least get your elderly parent face-to-face (so to speak) with a doctor. 

That said, most telehealth visits will usually require an in-person appointment at some point.

If your parent feels betrayed that you scheduled a video call with a doctor, then they’ll never go to see the doctor in their office.

Your other option is to find a doctor who makes house calls. 

This isn’t easy, especially tracking down a doctor in your network who your senior parent’s insurance covers.

However, your parent can finally get seen by a doctor, and that’s all you wanted all along. 

Read A Helpful Book

If your parent is blowing off your concerns, refusing to make changes, or otherwise resisting your efforts and you want them to listen, but they get upset or withdraw when you try to talk to them, a book by a geriatrician might help.

When Your Aging Parent Needs Help: A Geriatrician’s Step-by-Step Guide to Memory Loss, Resistance, Safety Worries, & More by Leslie Kernisan, MD and Paula Spencer-Scott, is a practical, step-by-step guide that will walk you through what to do and say in order to give respectful assistance to a declining elderly parent.


What To Do If Someone Needs Medical Help But Refuses?

Your urgency to get your senior to the doctor is a little stronger than usual because you sense that something could really be wrong with your parent’s health.

You think they need medical assistance at this point.

Yet still, your elderly parent will not budge on their stance. They refuse to see a doctor, which means they’ve refused to get medical help as well. 

What can you do?

Well, you can try the measures in the last section, but outside of that, there’s not much to be done.

If they are of sound mind, elderly patients have the right to make their own decisions, and refusing help is a medical decision in its most basic form.

Now, you could always call 911 and send an ambulance to your parent’s house. However, they could still refuse medical service.

On top of that, they’d now be on the hook for the ambulance costs. 

You might also try consulting a geriatric care manager or a medical professional in a situation like this, but they will likely tell you the same – your parent has the right to make medical decisions regarding their own health (or to refuse medical care). 

Conclusion 

When an elderly person refuses medical help, such as seeing a doctor, it can be utterly heartbreaking, especially when it’s clear they really need it. 

It’s not an easy conversation to have with your senior parent, but it is one that is worth having.

We hope that through the suggestions in this article that your parent agrees to see a doctor! 

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