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 population.
"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
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