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Carol Bradley Bursack, Published May 30 2010

Bursack: Let doctor know Mom is fibbing

Dear Carol: My mother is in her late 70s, and I accompany her to her doctor appointments. She is having subtle memory problems. She also loves sweets, which, since she is borderline diabetic, she shouldn’t have. However, she is so charming and seemingly sharp when we go to the doctor that she gets away with anything. I know she’s lying to the doctor, but I don’t want to contradict her, which she’ll resent. How do I get the doctor to know the truth? – Marge

Dear Marge: Unlike taking a child to a doctor appointment, when you accompany an adult, you can’t just answer the questions yourself. As they say, it’s complicated.

Doctors do need to address the actual patient. I’ve seen some who don’t want to waste their time and just talk over the elder patients as though they didn’t exist. That’s bad. The flip side of that is the doctor who doesn’t think the caregiver matters.

Since you are going to the doctor with your mom, it seems that she looks to you for helping her remember what she needs to do, or at least needs you for emotional support. She’s likely signed the HIPAA papers stating that you can have access to her medical information. Since that is the case, the doctor should consider you part of the team.

Try having a talk with your mom ahead of the appointment, with a list of potential questions in hand. Explain that this isn’t about her ego. Her doctor has to have the facts if he is to help her. Show compassion by telling her that we all “cheat” sometimes when it comes to doing what is right for our health. Keep judgment out of the picture.

If prepping your mom doesn’t help, then I’d suggest writing the doctor a letter about a week before the exam, so he can have the facts from your viewpoint. This will arm him with enough information to ask the right questions, or frame them in a way that your mother will need to fess up. You could also offer to step out of the room for a few minutes if she wants time alone with the doctor. If he is forearmed with information, they may have a conspiratorial little chat and some useful information could come forward that way.

You want the best thing for your mom, but she’s an adult. Do what you can to let the doctor know what you see as the truth. However, unless your mom is mentally incompetent to make decisions, she has rights. Tact will get you further than bullying.


Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.