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Allen Neylon lives in Brick Township, New Jersey, with his wife, Mary Beth, who has Alzheimer's. Last spring, when New Jersey COVID-19 hospitalizations were spiking, Neylon took his wife to the hospital to get some worrying symptoms checked. “I wasn't allowed to go in with her,” he says, so a nurse met him outside to get information. Neylon told the hospital staff that Mary Beth had dementia. But once she was inside the facility, “they took everything she said as gospel,” he says — and did not verify what she said with him. “Later, they said they didn't know my wife had dementia. They thought it was vertigo.” It was traumatic for his wife, Neylon says, “and it was ripping my heart out because I [couldn't] do anything” for her.
Restrictions for visitors, including caregivers, have eased since the spring, and exceptions are made more readily, according to doctors around the country. Still, helping older loved ones navigate their health care under COVID-19 precautions and restrictions can be complicated.
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The first order of business? “Know the rules. Don't show up at the door surprised," stresses J. Allen Meadows, an allergist in Montgomery, Alabama, and president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.
Here are four other things to keep in mind as you plan doctors’ appointments.
Is the appointment needed right now?
As many doctors’ offices reopen, some caregivers of older Americans may be tempted to schedule a slate of routine appointments. But while health care practitioners struggle to return to normal, even with precautions in place, many of them are holding off on scheduling nonurgent visits. At present, “most doctors don't advise patients to come into their office for routine follow-ups,” Meadows says. But, he adds, “If you have an urgent issue, go see your doctor."
What is urgent? If your loved one is experiencing life-threatening or harmful symptoms that need to be immediately addressed — difficulty breathing, acute injury or chest pain — bring them to an ER or urgent care center at once. For concerning symptoms that don't require a visit to the ER, call their health care provider, who can decide if the patient should be seen. “Depending on [the patient's] risk factors such as age and comorbidities, a discussion with [their] physician is critical before delaying any treatment,” says Ramin Fathi, a Phoenix dermatologist and Mohs surgeon at Phoenix Surgical Dermatology Group, who treats skin cancer patients. “Some skin cancers are slow-growing and asymptomatic,” he says, “and others are aggressive and life-threatening and need to be addressed sooner rather than later.”