Overcome Medical Care Aversion in Aging Adults

Jan 2, 2024

Starting from early childhood, we all start developing a self-identity and agency about what we do and don’t want to do. Unfortunately for the precocious and outspoken toddlers I know, they don’t really have a choice if they get to go to the doctor, go to health appointments, or skip out on broccoli. 

For the aging adults we may be caregiving for, they do have that agency to deny going to appointments, refuse medical care, and determine they don’t want to take medication.  And that can be okay! It’s important to make sure that the aging loved ones in our lives are granted respect, dignity, and a sense of agency in the decision-making, and respecting their wishes is paramount to their overall well-being.  

So, what do we do in instances of care receivers refusing to attend necessary medical appointments? This can be a little trickier to navigate. Today, we’re going to talk a little bit more about managing this and ways to help remedy the potential conflict that can arise. 

The Problem

Unless you’re pregnant, have a young child, or are someone who has a medical condition, most of us only see the doctor annually (if not less). However, once adults hit 70, appointments are recommended at least twice per year, not including separate appointments for specialists, bloodwork, cardiac or pulmonary rehabilitation programs, and physical therapy.

For some, getting out of the house is a fun way to break up the day, and appointments are welcomed. However, for others, fears of provider bias, frustration with their care, or denial of worsening symptoms can make medical appointments stressful, unproductive, and emotionally difficult for aging adults to attend. 

Additionally, ageism can be an issue with some providers, and ​​a recent study notes that 20% of adults over 50 may experience some type of bias or other age-related discrimination in medical settings, which directly impacts willingness to attend medical appointments.

Moreover, as we mentioned before, denial about progressively worsening conditions can be a major barrier to a willingness to access care. It makes sense and is an unfortunate reality that aging adults may experience fear, hopelessness, and denial about the state of their health. Getting older can be isolating and scary, and it makes sense that denial about the state of your health may be a path some take. 

So as caregivers, what are we to do if we experience this? We’ll break that down in the next section, and know that you’re not alone. 

What can you do?

Look Into Telemedicine

For some appointments, see if your loved one’s provider would do a virtual or telemedicine call for some of their regular appointments (and appointments where vitals such as heart rate and blood pressure aren’t necessary) or potentially prescription evaluation appointments.  

Telemedicine may be an easier way to encourage appointment attendance, especially if you can just bring your computer over to them, and they don’t have to worry about any of the details. 

Find a Geriatrician 

Geriatricians are MDs specifically focused on elder medicine and may be more appropriate for providing medical care to your loved ones. If your loved one is routinely frustrated with their current physician, feels unheard, or seems like regular problems aren’t being addressed or even paid attention to, a geriatrician may be a better choice for their needs. 

Keep in mind that geriatricians are specialists in their field, and there may be limited options in your area. In that event, see if you can refer to your hospital’s physician information page to learn more about the specific focuses of each of the providers available to you. 

Talk About It

I know, I know. We always write about how talking about things can help fix a lot of issues, and I know it can seem like too simple of a fix. However, talking does help! 

Make the conversation informal, and only broach the topic when you and your loved one can both sit and talk through their worries calmly and in a safe environment. So, in the car on the way to the doctor’s appointment, they didn’t want to go to might not be the best time to try and broach it. 

Chat through what they’re worried about, what might happen if they’re not happy with their current providers, or if they’re worried about their medications. 

This also might be a good time to check in on the drug interactions of their medications and chat with their doctor or pharmacist to make sure that everything they’ve been prescribed works properly together. 

Finally, let them express their hopes, worries, and fears about aging, medical care, and even their specific medical situation. Be an open ear and a support person for them. However, remind them that in the event of an emergency, medical crisis, or absolutely necessary appointment, you or another caregiver will need to take them for their own safety. 

We’ve just scratched the surface of what you and your loved one can do to help improve their experience at the doctor’s or even ways to help them continue attending doctor appointments. Depending on your circumstances, this may be more nuanced than what we’ve listed, and that’s okay. If you need and are able, talk to their provider and see what solutions they may suggest. As always, here at Avanlee Care, we’re here to help and provide support however we can. You can get started with the Avanlee App to better track appointments and medications for free today on our website.