FRIDAY, Feb. 24 (HealthDay News) -- About one-third of seniors
still living on their own take a companion -- usually a spouse or
other family member -- to their routine doctor's office visits,
And they tend to bring the same companion to each visit, which
may present the health care system with another important member of
a patient's medical team, the study's authors suggested.
"This raises some possibilities for quality improvement initiatives for patients and their companions together," said lead study author Jennifer Wolff, an associate professor of health policy and management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.
However, further research is necessary to define the companion's
role and figure out how to best support and include the companion
in a loved one's health care, she said.
For the study, the researchers looked at data from a nationally
representative Medicare beneficiary study completed in 2006. This
survey had information on almost 11,600 community-dwelling adults
over 65 years old. The researchers also looked at a subset of more
than 7,500 people from this group who had responded in 2005 and
2006 to determine the consistency of companion involvement.
The researchers found that nearly 19 percent of those who
answered the survey were accompanied to physician office visits,
and about 13 percent were accompanied to the doctor and received
some sort of task assistance from the companion. That means a total
of more than 31 percent took a companion with them to the
Twelve months later, three-quarters of these seniors were still
accompanied to medical visits, almost always by the same person (88
Most of the time (about 93) these companions were family
members, such as a spouse or adult child. Spouses were the
companion more often than adult children.
The health of those who took a companion varied. A third
reported being in excellent or very good health; another third said
their health was good; and the final third reported being in fair
or poor health, according to the study.
Most of those who took a companion (85 percent) were white, and
many lived with either a spouse or an adult child.
For those who didn't need assistance with scheduling or other
tasks, transportation was one reason for bringing a companion 42
percent of the time. For those who needed assistance,
transportation was one of the reasons 69 percent of the time.
Other reasons cited for having a companion present during a
medical visit included providing information to the doctor, taking
notes, asking questions or explaining a doctor's instructions.
Results of the study were published recently in the
Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Debra Greenberg, a senior social worker in the division of
geriatrics at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, called
the study "a really nice beginning of an exploration of this
topic." But, she said, there was little variety in this particular
"I work with a very diverse population, and there are significant cultural differences that have to be addressed," she said. "In some cultures, you just don't talk about death and dying. And, some of the things we value as health care providers, like advanced directives and living wills, in some cultures, they think it's complete hubris to say you have control over the end of life."
She said that in a geriatric practice, physicians and other care
providers often depend on reports from the people who accompany the
older people to their appointments.
Wolff said there's a need for more research into this area. For
example, how best can companions add to the health care
relationship? For now, Wolff said people should talk with their
spouse or parents and ask what they hope to get out of their
physician visits. They should also ask how they can help. Do they
want you to help remind them of the questions they wanted
addressed, or would they rather that the companion asked the
questions? She said it's helpful to set a framework for the
appointment ahead of time.
Learn more about involving loved ones in doctor visits from the
U.S. National Institute on Aging.