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Posted: January 20, 2005

Spousal Caregiving

Improving Caregiver/Doctor Communications

Bill Andrew

I emphasized in last week's column, the first of this two-part topic on communication, that improving caregiver-doctor communication is vital to your loved one's well-being. This week, I want to share some "tried and true" spousal caregiver/doctor communication tips for your consideration. I offer these as a spousal caregiver's guide along the path of improving communication with your loved one's doctor, especially the family doctor.

Here's what I suggest as a good checklist to improve and guide communication:

  • Answer the doctor's questions honestly and to the best of your ability. If you don't have the answer during this visit, make sure that you do at the next visit.
  • List your loved one's symptoms as you have observed them. When did they occur, how often?
  • In non-life-threatening situations, which of several medical decisions must be made on the spot? Which can be postponed until the caregiver and the loved one can think things over before decisions are made that will affect all parties?
  • What are all of the legal ramifications of recommended life-saving actions. What legal documents should be in place before such actions occur?
  • Let the doctor know that you consider your spouse's illness or disability as a family affair that will affect everyone involved. Take stock of how you are doing in the caregiver role, and share your self-analysis with the doctor. Without you as caregiver, who will take care of your spouse? Your personal health is key to being an effective spousal caregiver.
  • Ask the doctor to explain any tests or procedures that may be ordered for your loved one.
  • How long will it take to obtain a diagnosis after the tests or procedures have been completed?
  • If the doctor provides a diagnosis, ask:
    • What does the diagnosis means? Have it explained in a way that you understand.
    • What can be expected short- and long-term? Said another way, what does the future hold for your loved one?
    • Where you can obtain more information to better understand the diagnosis and prognosis? Living with a long-term illness or disability often requires more than what medicine alone has to offer.
    • Whether written material is available on the disease?
    • What treatment options are available for this diagnosis? Which are recommended by the doctor?
    • What organizations and community services are available to assist with this diagnosis?
    • What impact will this have on your loved one's ability to continue to perform current activities?
    • What your schedule will be for the next and subsequent appointments?
    • Under what circumstances should the spousal caregiver contact the doctor?
    • Does the doctor have any objection to your getting a second opinion on your loved ones medical problem?
  • If the doctor prescribes treatment(s), ask:
    • What is the medical efficacy of the recommended treatment(s)? What is the track record for similar cases?
    • How practical is the recommended treatment(s)? What impact will there be on the extended family?
    • What can I do at home to make things easier and safer for the loved one and the family-caregiver?
    • Whether medications the only treatment available? Are there other options?
    • If medications are prescribed, what are the considerations, specifically what are the risks and benefits, potential side effects, potential complications, length of time that the medication must be taken, whether generic medication is available, and other issues?
    • Are clinical trials advisable or even available? What are the benefits and risks of such clinical trials?
  • Be sensitive when you talk with the doctor about difficult subjects. Waiting rooms and corridors are not appropriate.
  • Learn the routine at the doctor's office and/or the hospital so you can make the system work for you and not against you.
  • Keep your anger, concerns, hostility, and personal feelings separate from your feelings about the doctor. You and the doctor are on the same side -- you both want to help your loved one.
  • Before you and your loved one leave the doctor's exam room, make sure that the next visit is scheduled and determine the frequency of subsequent visits.
  • Appreciate what the doctor is doing to help you and your loved one -- say "thank you."

This is not intended as an all-inclusive list but should be used as an initial checklist to get you and your loved one's doctors on the same page through improved communication. If you have any tips that you may wish to add to this list, I would appreciate hearing from you at


"Leave your drugs in the chemist's pot if you can heal your patient with food!"

Hippocrates (The Father of Medicine) c460-c360BC

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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