Q. My mother is 85 and was told she has stage 3 cancer. She doesn't seem to understand exactly what is going on and is passive. We're not that pleased with her doctors. I don't want to be pushy, but how can we help her?

A.

Challenges that may affect older adults and their ability to make health care decisions include how they process information, how they cope with the stress of the diagnosis, and how their medical team communicates with them. With this in mind, family support can play an important part in your mother’s care. I’d start by asking your mother if she would like your help, and if so, what areas she would like help with. This might include meeting with her medical team to discuss her treatment plan or helping her prepare for her appointments.

Questions to ask about her treatment include:

  • What is the recommended treatment and possible side effects?
  • How could treatment affect other co-existing health issues?
  • Is the goal longer survival, which may mean a more intensive treatment, or is it quality of life?

Ways to involve and organize your mother include:

  • Take notes at her appointments or ask if you can record the discussion
  • During the appointment, ask her if she has questions
  • Repeat and review the information after the appointment, allowing her time to process information
  • Keep a calendar to record her appointments
  • Use a notebook to keep track of symptoms and side effects
  • Create a file for all paperwork related to her diagnosis, including copies of important records
  • Compile a current list of all her medications and phone numbers/addresses of all of her health care providers.

Your mother’s medical team is one of the most important aspects of her care, and as a health consumer she has every right to receive quality care. It is essential that older adults and their loved ones be able to openly and honestly discuss their care with their doctors and any potential difficulties that may arise. For more guidance please read, “Doctor, Can We Talk? Tips for Communicating With Your Health Care Team”. If she is not comfortable with quality of care she is receiving, she may need to explore other options. Though this may seem daunting, your mother’s primary care doctor or even a local hospital can provide her with referrals.