By Dr. Marion Somers, Ph. D., Ask Dr. Marion

QUESTION: My mother's complex medical problems have caused both of my parents to be suspicious of doctors, medications, and modern medical care. They do not give the doctors accurate or complete information about her condition nor do they follow the doctor's instructions, later complaining that his directions and care do not help. They have gradually avoided telling my sisters and me about her condition and the results of doctor's visits, and are withholding information that a loving and interested family needs to know. How do we achieve accurate, complete, and open communication with them? Danny in Ohio, 51

ANSWER: You're not alone, Danny. Many caregivers and family members deal with this same exact issue. My experience has been that the older person is usually trying to maintain their independence, their dignity, and their privacy. Often, they are not aware of the more subtle changes such as hearing loss, or diminished capacities of understanding or making choices. Their medical problems are often complex and not fully comprehended, and that can be scary.

I try to improve the situation by explaining that their reluctance to allow others to help them increases anxiety and alarm within the family. When all of the facts are explained, the elder usually starts to understand how the family is impacted. And this often leads to better communication for the entire family.

I also recommend that the doctor write out all the instructions, test results, and other appointments that need to be made. Then put this information in a special book for easy reference. Your parents may be able to more fully digest all the information, procedures, and future appointments because they're in written form. They are then usually less nervous or fearful once they leave the doctor's office.

Due to recently enacted privacy laws, the medical profession can now only give information to someone the patient has designated. If you are the primary caregiver for your parents, you need to be designated as such by them to have the best opportunity to succeed in your vital role as a caregiver.

©2006 Elder Health Resources of America, Inc.