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Posted: January 13, 2005

Spousal Caregiving

Opening the Door to Effective Caregiver/Doctor Communication

Bill Andrew

As we enter 2005, I want to wish each and every Spousal Caregiving reader a Happy New Year. I want to also wish you success in your spousal caregiving roles and the daily activities you perform for your loved one during this brand new year.

Each of us is challenged on a daily basis as we learn, and relearn, how to perform those activities which often become more difficult as time goes by. Today?s column focuses on lessons learned from my personal spousal caregiving experience. These lessons can be applied in many various caregiving environments, although mine come from an Alzheimer?s disease perspective.

The first of these lessons is that it is imperative to communicate well with your family doctor and the various other physicians who may be providing care and support for your loved one.

Spousal caregivers are often totally responsible for the communication between their loved one and their doctors. As a long-time spousal caregiver, it would have been nice to have had some guidance early in the disease process and not have had to learn the hard way as many spousal caregivers obviously do. Often the loved one, the spousal caregiver, and the doctor, especially the family doctor, all learn together.

There is much to be gained from improved communication between spousal caregivers and healthcare professionals, especially doctors. Positive outcomes can include better care for the loved one, less stress, strain and illness for the spousal caregiver, more efficient use of the doctor's time (they will like this), reduced overall cost for the healthcare system, and improved satisfaction for all concerned -- loved one, caregiver and doctor.

It is important to remember that quality care provided by everyone working together will always be better than care given by the loved one, the spousal caregiver, or the doctor alone! Essentially, what we want to do is develop a partnership between the spousal caregiver and the doctor for the benefit of the loved one.

However, in order to gain these benefits, both spousal caregivers and doctors must gain a better understanding of each other's worlds, something often lacking in many spousal caregiver/doctor relationships. Both need to try, as hard as that may be, to "walk in each other's shoes."

The following "tried and true" spousal caregiver/doctor communication tips are offered as a guide for spousal caregivers as the first step toward improving communication with the loved one's doctors, especially the family doctor. These have been adapted from resource materials available from the National Family Caregivers Association (NFCA) and the Alzheimer?s Association. This is not intended as an all-inclusive list but should be treated as a "starter" list. Use this list to start your own list to facilitate your personal spousal caregiving communications with your loved one?s doctor. If you have any tips that you may wish to add to this list based upon your personal spousal caregiving experiences, I would appreciate hearing from you at

  • Doctors have a limited amount of time to spend with each patient. Recognize this fact and be prepared to make the best use of the doctor's time.
  • Be prepared. Make a list of the concerns, issues, and questions that you want to discuss.
  • Be specific and clear about what you want to say to the doctor. Don?t ramble. Stay on course.
  • Be open and forthright with the doctor. Don?t hide anything. Expect the doctor to reciprocate.
  • As the spousal caregiver, don?t be afraid to "open your heart" to the doctor. Expect the doctor to reciprocate.
  • If you don?t understand something, ask questions until you do. Don?t be afraid to speak up and to share your point of view or concern.
  • Take notes during the visit. Review those notes and bring up any concerns at the next visit.
  • Recognize that not all questions will have an answer, especially those beginning with "why."
  • Educate yourself about your loved one's disease or disability. Use the Internet or other available resources to obtain pertinent information. This website itself is an excellent resource.
  • If you have lots of things to talk about, make a consultation appointment so the doctor can allow enough time to discuss those topics with you.
  • Take all of your loved one's medications (prescription and over-the-counter) including vitamins and supplements to at least the first visit.
  • Take a list of past and current medical problems incurred by your loved one. Have other family members had similar medical problems?

I will provide additional spousal caregiver/doctor caregiver communication tips in next week?s column, the second part of this ?mini-series? on the important topic of effective communication.


?A cheerful heart is a good medicine??

(Proverbs 17:22)

Bill Andrew identifies himself as a former “nutritionally-empowered Alzheimer’s caregiver” who attributes the slow-down in progression of Alzheimer’s disease in his wife, Carol – and the growth of his own personal emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual capability and strength to provide quality 24/7 care for her in their own home – to the targeted nutritional supplements they both took on a daily basis. Carol went to her Heavenly reward on June 9, 2008 – Bill continues on to advocate for family caregivers. Contact Bill with your caregiving questions and comments via email at

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© 2005 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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