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What to Do if Your Loved One Refuses to See a Doctor

September 23, 2015


What to Do if Your Loved One Refuses to See a Doctor


When it comes to our aging loved ones, the last words we want to hear are "I don't want to go to the doctor."

Yet, we've all been there, or know someone who's going through the problem right now. Although there are no solid stats, it's safe to assume that many of the elderly who would benefit from medical care (and who may have access to free medical care) have deep-seated inhibitions against seeing doctors.

This is as much a result of an overly complex medical system (with reams of paperwork that the elderly may not have the capacity to fill out) as it is a result of a lifetime of accumulated negative experiences with healthcare professionals. Consequently, it can be very hard to convince an older patient (who "did just fine when I was younger") that going to the doctor is worth their time. If they have a fear of doctors to begin with, it may feel like it’s next to impossible to convince them to get a checkup.

This very serious problem is further exacerbated by the fact that the only people who are in a position to encourage visits to the doctor are most likely not authority figures (e.g., they're probably children, younger healthcare professionals, etc.)

So how do you convince your loved one to visit the doctor without rocking the boat? Here are five smart ways to go about it:

1. Be transparent and direct

One of the best things you can do is the one thing that everyone who has experienced this problem probably tries last. For some of us, approaching a taboo or unpopular topic with our parents or older relatives can be a daunting task. We may have grown up in a culture where this is frowned upon, or we may have had authoritarian parents.

Whatever the case, you must accept that in old age, your parents will need some guidance (even if they won't admit it). Self-denial, especially about health issues, is very common among the elderly. Sometimes the best way to address that problem is to force them to confront what they're avoiding.

2. Convince them that it's their idea

If option #1 isn't appealing (or if you've already tried and failed), it's time to be a bit wily. The elderly are afraid that their independence is slipping away from them day by day, so sometimes direct confrontation is not the best way to go. If it reaches that point, back down and reassess your strategy.

If you can, try to convince them that going to a doctor is a great idea for reasons A, B, and C. Don't outright tell them to go, but see if they suggest the option themselves. (Obviously, this is an oversimplification of the back-and-forth, but you should be able to take it from here.)

3. Make it a "double-checkup"

If they won't suggest a check up on their own, your next best bet is to peer pressure them into going. Gently.

"Hey, Dad, I'm going to see the doctor this Saturday. Want to come with me?" can work wonders. Not only will your parent or loved one see this as quality time together, they'll also feel much less opposed to visiting a doctor if they know that you have already seen and can vouch for him or her. It's almost like a soft referral.

4. Make the rest of the day as enjoyable as possible

You can also sweeten the deal by planning out a fun family day. Going to the doctor is far less unpleasant when a day of brunches and excursions await. Simple reward-based incentives work regardless of age.

5. Get someone who is an authority figure to help

If none of the aforementioned options work, you may have to give up on doing this on your own. The problem is most likely the fact that your parent or loved one simply doesn't see you as an authority figure. The only way to solve that problem is by finding an actual authority figure.

Who do they respect, listen to, or admire? Who has been an authority figure of theirs in the past? Think hard—most likely there is someone who fits the bill.

At Lane Regional Medical Center, we believe that everyone should get the quality care that they deserve. And our world-class team of behavioral health science experts are only a phone call away. If you need help convincing your parent or loved one to see a doctor, contact us. We'll help in any way we can.