When Your Loved One Won’t See a Doctor: Five Strategies for Caregivers

It may be a blessing and a curse that I’m amazed by the pervasiveness of caregiving in our lives. It’s a blessing because it motivates me to write words that matter. It’s a curse because I never feel that I’m doing enough to make a difference.

Caregivers number in the millions in this country, but numbers are cerebral and don’t always register on an emotional level. At least not until they are attached to stories, such as the one I heard last Sunday.

My husband and I were spending the afternoon with friends, watching March Madness while shooting hoops and grilling burgers. A seemingly benign and recreational day, right? Yet somewhere in between “I can’t believe we’re grilling outside in March” to “Did you see that shot?” the following statement was nested:

“My dad refuses to go to the doctor.”

There it is. The ubiquity of caregiving. Right smack in the middle of beer and basketball.

I’m glad she brought it up, because it’s an extremely common problem. How many caregivers know that something is wrong – perhaps very wrong – but cannot convince their loved one to even set foot in the waiting room?

There is no simple answer to this problem, but there are strategies that can be adapted to your unique situation. Each of the following ideas was shared with me by caregivers I’ve known through support groups, online communities, and caregiver events. I didn’t include an idea unless it was a recurring theme in my work.

National Cancer Institute - Rhoda Baer

Be Direct

This has worked for caregivers that assumed their loved ones would not go to the doctor based on personality and general comments but not based on actually broaching the subject. These caregivers had never simply come out and told their loved ones they were concerned about them and wanted to help by making an appointment. Deciding that it couldn’t hurt to ask, they were delighted when their loved ones agreed.

Make It Their Idea

As we grow older, especially in the context of illness, the thought of losing our independence looms in the psyche. If you knew you should probably do something you dreaded, would you rather do that thing on your own terms or at the insistence of others? As my dad would say, “All I ask of anyone is please don’t mess up my day.”

Caregivers with the gift of gab have found success with this strategy. It entails coming to the family member with a problem and asking for advice. For example, “Hey Dad, I need your help. I found that special chair you were asking about, but it’s pretty expensive unless I can show a medical need for it – then there’s a huge discount. What should we do?”

When he suggests going to the doctor as a way to help you out, everybody wins and he doesn’t feel forced into the decision.

Get a Check-Up Together

Whether it’s starting an exercise routine, adhering to a healthy diet, or yes, getting a medical check-up, people by nature are more likely to do something with a partner. Several caregivers have shared with me that when they told their spouse or parent they were scheduling check-ups for the whole family, it was easy to persuade their loved one to come along for the ride.

Make a Day of It

Unpleasant tasks are more palatable when combined – or surrounded by – more pleasant activities. I’ve heard creative stories from caregivers wherein medical appointments were scheduled between a manicure and a movie or were bookended by breakfast at the diner and a grandkid’s baseball game. When visits to the doctor are treated as small blips within fun, active days, they might be perceived that way too.

Reach Out to a Person of Influence

I love this strategy because it’s resourceful and I’ve seen it work in the moment. Can you recall a time when you tried to tell something to a family member and felt dismissed? Then, not a few hours later, a more distant acquaintance tells your family member the same thing and he agrees with enthusiasm as if he had never heard such a grand idea before. Yep, it can raise your hackles, but in the case of getting your loved one to the doctor, it can work wonders.

Try to think of someone your family member knows and respects, such as a co-worker, member of the law enforcement, or leader in her religious community. Ask if that person would be willing to talk to your loved one about seeing a doctor. Several caregivers have told me that after their own attempts failed, their loved one promptly agreed to see a physician when the suggestion came from a trusted third party.

If this strategy works for you, try not to take it personally. Simply rejoice that the greater good was accomplished.

If you try any of these suggestions, please let us know the results! And if you have other strategies that have worked for you, please share them here. Let’s create a community of ideas that can help caregivers with these difficult challenges, one brainstorming session at a time.

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