Elder Care, Health and Wellness

How to Get the Best out of Health Care

Written by Maria-Luisa Elias, former Workshop Coordinator

An unknown author once said that nurses are angels in comfortable shoes; the same is true, undoubtedly, about good doctors, pharmacists, therapists, pathologists, and anyone else who can help you to care for your elderly loved one in their time of need.

In addition to family doctors and some specialists, your elder parent, relative or friend may be advised to seek the help of other health care practitioners, especially if he/she, as part of the aging process, starts requiring special treatments or accommodations to better function at home or in the community. Some of these practitioners may include: occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, pharmacists, social workers and long-term care administrators (see appendix for more details).

Having to deal with several health care practitioners at the same time can become overwhelming and challenging, especially if the practitioners don’t work under the same roof, or if they don’t know each other. It is therefore important to learn how to communicate effectively with these individuals so you can get the best out of their time and services. Here are some suggestions:

Ask Questions
Know that your aging parent, relative or friend and you, as the caregiver, are an important part of the health care practitioners’ team. Do not feel intimidated – if you have a question or require further clarification, ask! If you are inquiring on behalf of your loved one, please make sure that you have his/her consent before hand.

Be Informed and Prepared
Health care practitioners usually have very limited time to interact with patients – 10 to 15 minutes. In order to get the best out of this time:

  • Gather past and current information about: symptoms (dizziness, fatigue, weight loss, etc.), medication, including prescribed and over-the-counter drugs, allergies, sensitivity to any substance or medication, dietary needs, eyeglasses, dentures, hearing aids or any other device, use of tobacco, alcohol or any other substance, hereditary illnesses, physical activities, and any other relevant information. Try to keep all records handy and up to date.
  • Identify any questions or concerns prior to any visit. Before any visit, take a moment to discuss with your elderly family member or friend any concerns or questions and write them down. If your list includes more than a few items, prioritize.
  • Plan for any special accommodations. If you require a translator or certain religious, personal or cultural accommodations, find out if the health care setting is able to provide them prior to your visit.
  • Keep all necessary documentation such as health and insurance cards handy.

Become an Active Listener
During your visits stay focused. When dealing with important information or instructions try rephrasing to make sure you don’t miss any information. You can use phrases such as: “let me see if I understood correctly, you are saying that…” At the end of your visits summarize the information you received.

Ask for Information
Request written information such as flyers, handouts or any other materials. If you feel you need more information, try doing some extra research. The Family Care Office Resource Library offers an extensive array of books and materials. You can also visit the Ontario Seniors’ Secretariat for further information.

Be a Team Player
Be patient, polite and considerate. Be aware that practitioners might have limited time and a great number of patients.

Gather Practitioners’ Contact Information
Make a list of the practitioners’ names and contact information. Inquire about office hours and the best way to reach them in case you have further questions.

Get a Second Opinion
Do not be afraid to get second opinions, especially on serious matters such as surgery.

Research Additional Resources
Inquire about community services or voluntary organizations to get extra resources, information and support (examples are: the Arthritis Society, the Osteoporosis Society or the Alzheimer Society).

Take Care of Yourself
Most important of all, do not forget to take care of yourself as a caregiver! Taking care of an aging parent, relative or friend can be demanding and even isolating. Read tips for coping with caregivers stress and contact the Family Care Office for more information and support.

Occupational therapists – individuals specialized in doing any adequate arrangements to make living and working easier for people while or after recovering from an injury or illness.

Speech-language pathologists – individuals trained in assessing, diagnosing and treating any disorder related to speech, language, cognitive-communication, voice, swallowing, and/or fluency.

Pharmacists – dispense drugs and make sure that people are taking the right medications, at the right time and adequate doses so drugs don’t pose any risks to people’s recovery and/or health. Please note that if your aging parent, relative or friend is taking at least three prescription medications per day for a chronic condition, they can use MedsCheck to get free medication assessments (www.medscheck.ca). You may also inquire about medication assessment programs at your nearest hospital or pharmacy – some of them may offer these programs for free.

Social workers – help coordinate discharges from hospitals and transfers between institutions; identify and make arrangements for services needed at home or in the community; and evaluate how people respond to the care and services received. They also counsel individuals and their families in regard to anxiety, depression or difficulty coping with an illness, disorder or disability.
Long-term care administrators – keep the institution’s policies and standards, and deal with any financial, operational or personnel issues.

Online Resources:

The Merck Manual of Health and Aging. New York: Ballantine Books, 2006.
Morris, Virginia. How to Care for Aging Parents. New York: Workman Publishing, 1996.


This article was originally printed in the March 2009 edition of the FCO newsletter.

Revised and updated for the January 21 2014 Newsletter