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Senior Health

Refusing to see a doctor

04/03/2008

Question:

My mother is 81 years old and in relatively good physical health. My fater passed away 5 months ago and we believe my mother is suffering from depression. Her memory is failing and she tends to repeat herself a lot. The problem is, is that she absolutely refuses to see a doctor - she hasn`t been in years and will not go now. We have made appointments for her, but she will not go. She is VERY stubborn and will not change her mind. We know there is medication that would help her, but without seeing a doctor, we can`t get her the medication she needs. What do you suggest we do? We are desperate!

Answer:

This is a challenge for family members that is may not be easily resolved. Your note does not indicate how well your mother is functioning or whether she shows signs of actual clinical depression. Even though family is very concerned, since your mother is competent to make her own decisions, she is within her rights to refuse to see a physician even though this causes great concern and frustration at times. Depression may occur after loss of a loved one and may interfere with memory. In any case, it is important to discover the root of the memory problem whether it is depression or some other process.

If your mother attends a faith-based community, it is sometimes helpful to get the religious leader to intervene with the older person and to help the family by urging a visit to the health care provider, as a means of ensuring that she is in good health herself, following such a stressful event as loss of her spouse.

Your concern is understandable. Sometimes a trusted confidant or friend of an older person may be enlisted to help to influence an older person take care of themselves by seeing the doctor. By pointing out to the senior that a doctor's visit is not necessarily only for themselves but it is out of concern for family members to relieve their minds.

One technique you and your family members might try is to appeal to her as your surviving parent. Having lost your father, it sounds in your note that you are concerned about your mother's well-being and it is very important to you. You could let her know (you and all her children, if you have siblings) that she could be helpful you (to all of you) by checking with her physician about her own state of health and wellbeing and that a visit to her doctor would relieve your mind.

You may have already tried this approach but may need to appeal to her several times regarding your concern for her and your need for reassurance about her well-being. This has been helpful to some families. Hopefully, your mother will eventually see her doctor but in the meantime, it would be advisable to check in with her often and continue to appeal to her to visit the doctor for a check up.

If the doctor makes home visits, this could be arranged but only with your mother's permission, as it sounds as though she is capable of making her own decisions, as frustrating to you as this may be. We truly appreciate your concern.

One final suggestion: Contact your local area Council on Aging Service providers (usually in the phone book or online for your city or county) Perhaps they can provide additional information and resources to help you regarding this important concern.

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Response by:

Evelyn L Fitzwater, DSN, RN Evelyn L Fitzwater, DSN, RN
Associate Professor Emerita
Associate Director of the
College of Nursing
University of Cincinnati