Mom Lies to Her Doctor
"I take my mother to all of her doctor appointments because she has trouble walking, and driving is out of the question. She has marginal hearing, too, so she prefers that I go into the exam room with her. I oblige because I think it’s the right thing to do.
During the history portion and exam, Mom is asked numerous questions. She generally provides half-truths or outright lies for answers. Since I spend so much time with my mother, I am well aware of her habits, pill taking, and general lifestyle. The picture she presents to the doctor is not at all accurate.
I’m afraid she’s not getting treated accurately because she’s not telling the truth. How do I manage the lies?"
Your mother is not alone in this behavior. Many people fear the consequences of telling the truth to their doctor, so they simply lie and say that everything is fine. They might be afraid that disclosing their symptoms will subject them to lots of testing. Some patients are embarrassed about their lifestyle choices. Others yet think they will sound like big complainers. Some patients fear discrimination, while others just don’t want to be scolded.
After all, doctors are revered professionals. People don’t want to look foolish, incompetent or problematic in front of them. Bending the truth seems easier.
Doctors are very smart and can usually see through the lies. But there’s still huge risk for your mother if the doctor can’t guess the truth, or does actually believe her lies.
Gently bring it up with your mother before the next appointment. Remind her that there isn’t much she could tell the doctor that they haven’t heard before. Also, ask her permission to speak up on her behalf. If she’s embarrassed, it may be easier for you to speak the truth for her. It will draw the attention to you, which may be more palatable.
I firmly believe that quality health care is a group effort. If each of us had an advocate for all of our appointments, I think we would have better outcomes. Your mother has that in you. Seize the day and gradually participate in obtaining optimal care for mom by adding snippets of truth during her appointments.
It sounds like you do a lot for your mother. I believe advocating for the best health care has to offer is a wonderful asset. You will likely have many opportunities to help your mother in this way. Gently lean into the role.
I wish you well on this shared journey.
Family Caregiving Advice Column
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