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How to Talk to Your Elderly Parents’ Doctor

Our nursing home injury attorneys take pride in making sure our clients feel comfortable asking questions about any topic. We want our clients and their families to understand the litigation process and how their case is handled, from start to finish. This includes discussing medical care and communicating with doctors, nurses, and staff members.

Communication can be extraordinarily difficult with an elderly parent in a nursing home. Making matters worse, only 3% of American medical students take any type of geriatrics class. Medical school teaches doctors to treat a problem – cancer, Parkinson’s, dementia – not a whole person. They see a condition and try to solve it with medication, surgery, or other therapies, often without considering how it will impact other aspects of their life.

Older generations tend to take doctors’ orders without question. They weren’t raised to Google facts or WebMD symptoms.

Websites like the Mayo Clinic can be extremely helpful in this respect, providing in-depth guides for nearly all types of diseases and conditions, including sections on preparing for your appointment, questions to ask your doctor, and what to expect from your doctor.

Unfamiliar Doctors

When an elderly person is admitted to the hospital, their regular doctor is no longer in control of their care. Instead, they’re assigned a doctor who works exclusively for that hospital, with patients of all ages and health status. Typically, that doctor has never met them before, and only has a basic understanding of their medical history, allergies, or unique needs.

Unfortunately, doctors routinely prescribe treatments without consulting other specialists caring for a patient, and without knowledge of a patient’s needs or general medical plan. This is one reason medical mistakes are so common: lack of communication between doctors, specialists, staff, and family.

To ensure the best possible outcome, family should be extremely involved in medical decision making, especially if the patient has dementia or other mental conditions. Families have the right to involvement in their parents’ medical care.

Certain legal documents – such as Power of Attorney and Advanced Care Directives – can help families take control over decision making.

You have the right to question anything you don’t understand. You should always know the reason why a certain medication or therapy is being prescribed. You may be the only one to notice that something is wrong. You don’t need to be a medical expert. You just need to know your loved one, take the time to support and advocate for them, and speak up.

For Spanish Speakers

Between 1999 and 2008, the number of Latino nursing home residents rose by 55%, and is expected to grow rapidly in the coming decades. Traditionally, nursing homes were a taboo subject in Latino culture, as a place someone is left alone in horrible conditions. Fortunately, nursing homes throughout the country are taking steps to accommodate Spanish-speaking residents, to create a comfortable environment for them and their family.

Medical interpreters and Spanish-speaking staff help patients who speak little to no English, which is nearly 10% of our population. Though many residents speak some English, the complexity of medical language can make it impossible to fully understand what’s happening.

Doctors find it particularly difficult to discuss end-of-life and hospice care through an interpreter, since every language is nuanced in its own way. Hospice care – which focuses on managing symptoms for patients in the last six months of life - depends on open and honest communication. Yet the Spanish word for hospice, hospicio, does not convey the same idea as the English version. Patients and families need a translator who can express the idea correctly.

Before admittance to a nursing home, ask how many staff members and residents speak fluent Spanish. Ask how involved families are allowed to be with their loved one’s care. Ask if they can accommodate food preferences and religious differences.

There are several Latino-focused nursing homes in the Chicago area, some better than others. The Center Home for Hispanic Elderly, for example, in Humboldt Park, was recently investigated by several government agencies after complaints of poor quality and unsafe conditions. Just because a nursing home has a mostly Latino clientele does not automatically make it the best option for your loved one. Always do your research before deciding on a facility.

For the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Nursing homes and hospitals are required by federal law to provide interpreters for deaf and hard of hearing patients. Failure to provide proper communication is discriminatory and could give rise to a medical malpractice claim.

Doctors cannot rely on written notes to communicate with a deaf patient. English and American Sign Language (ASL) are foreign languages, just as French and Japanese are foreign to each other. ASL has its own concepts, sentence structure, and grammar, that doesn’t often translate to English.

There are between 500,000 and two million ASL speakers in the U.S. Two separate federal laws require hospitals, doctors and nursing homes to provide qualified interpreters for deaf and hard of hearing patients: the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Medical facilities cannot charge or surcharge a disabled person for interpreters or hearing aids, and the government specifically warns against using family members or friends as interpreters. Facilities also must make sure their phones, TVs, and other services are accessible to deaf patients.

This also applies to patients with impaired speaking, vision, or manual skills.

Our nursing home injury attorneys are here to answer your questions and concerns. We've spent 30 years specializing in nursing home abuse and neglect lawsuits, representing clients throughout the country. We are here to help. Call or email us today for a free case review and consultation.

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