Coping with GP appointments when you have dementia

Visiting the GP can be a challenging experience for some people with dementia. We have tips and advice for going to the GP easier for people with dementia.

GP surgeries can be busy and confusing for some people with dementia to visit. Sometimes it is difficult to get a GP appointment in the first place, and sometimes getting the person with dementia to go to the practice can be difficult. It may be helpful to ask the practice if they provide extra support for people with dementia and carers – many do.

Tips to make visiting the GP easier

  • If the person with dementia is reluctant to visit, calmly explain why it is important and how it will benefit them.
  • If the noise of the waiting room is distressing, ask for an appointment at the quietest time of day, or request a telephone appointment.
  • Ask for a longer appointment with the GP or nurse. See if you can book double appointments for the person with dementia, so they don’t feel rushed.
  • You can ask to see the same GP where possible, so that the person with dementia can see someone that they already have a relationship with. This may mean they are less reluctant to go.
  • If the person with dementia will be visiting alone, ask for a telephone or text message reminder so they don’t forget to go.
  • Ask if the GP will collect them from the waiting room if they are hard of hearing or visually impaired, or are prone to getting lost. They may miss their appointment if they can’t see or hear the announcement, or can’t find the right room.
  • If possible, help the person to take their medication with them. This can help to avoid confusion or misunderstandings.
  • Before the appointment, write or email the GP with a list of your concerns. It can help the doctor to be aware of the situation, if the person with dementia is likely to not mention it, or to forget. The doctor will decide whether they use these concerns as part of the appointment, and they don’t have to share the outcome with you.

Tips for accompanying the person to the GP surgery

Some people with dementia like having someone with them when they attend GP appointments. This person can offer reassurance. They can also make a note of what was said, in case the person with dementia needs a reminder after the appointment.

The person with dementia may find it reassuring to have someone with them if they need to have any investigations or tests (for example, blood pressure, blood test, urine sample). If the person is unable to remember or has difficulty communicating, the person attending with them can help explain things to the GP.

If the person wants you to go with them to the doctor or nurse appointment, the following tips may be useful:

  • Before going to the surgery, write down all the points you would both like to discuss with the GP. It can be difficult to remember everything you want to say during an appointment.
  • It may help to write down all recent changes or concerns as a list on a small card (for example, a postcard or record card). This is helpful as the GP can read this and type straight from this onto their notes, which can leave more time to discuss how they can help the person.
  • Mention any relevant customs, attitudes or beliefs. This can help the GP to decide on appropriate treatment and services.
  • If English is not the person’s first language, they have a right to ask for a translator when they see their GP.
  • Make a note of anything important that the doctor says. For example, you might want to write down any medical terms that are used, or changes to medications.
  • If there is anything you do not understand, ask the doctor to explain in simpler terms.
  • The conversation should always involve the person with dementia. It is important not to talk to the doctor over the person’s head as though they aren’t there. If you feel you need to talk to the doctor on your own, make a separate appointment.
  • Ask for the GP to make a note of you as the main carer, and to copy you into any important information (for example, dates and times of appointments), if appropriate.
  • At the end of the appointment, offer to leave the room so that the person with dementia can speak with the doctor alone.
  • Keep a record of the appointment and any issues you discuss with the GP. This can be useful for showing other health professionals.