They may say that 50 is the new 30, but that doesn’t mean you’ll reach that half-century mark without at least a few aches and pains. Of course, the better care you take of yourself, the fewer those aches and pains will be.
To that end, almost 45 million Americans have annual physicals – and that number is even higher for seniors over 50, who grew up with the idea that a yearly visit to the doc was a definite must-do. But this annual physical rule has recently come under scrutiny, with many experts saying it isn’t always necessary.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you should avoid your doctor like the plague! If you have a family history of health problems or have started to experience issues of your own, by all means go see your doctor. He or she can help you resolve or manage your health concern – whether the problem is arthritic knees or tennis elbow.
But here’s the really important part — no matter how often you visit your doctor, you need to establish a rapport with your practitioner. And you need to be prepared to make the most of your appointment.
No — really be prepared. How often have you left a doctor’s appointment feeling confused – about your diagnosis, medication, prognosis, therapy or appointment follow-up? Don’t worry – you aren’t alone. In fact, according to the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (JRSM), a whopping 40-80 percent of the information that patient’s receive at a doctor’s appointment is promptly forgotten. And the more detailed the information, the less that is retained.
So what to do? Well, people often get ready for the physical aspect of the appointment (by taking a shower or wearing loose-fitting clothes or bringing along their medications). But the real key to preparation is to be mentally ready to make the most of the short time you may have with your practitioner. Here’s how:
- Tell the scheduler exactly why you want to see the doctor. What is your health concern? What do you want to get out of the appointment? If you have more than one issue to discuss, be sure to let them know that in advance so you’ll have enough time to cover everything.
- Make a list of all the things you want to discuss, no matter how minor. It’s easy to forget something that isn’t bothering you at theexact moment you’re there.
- New doctor? Be sure to bring along your personal and family health history. And have your medical records sent from your old clinic in advance. The more information the doctor has about you, the better able they’ll be to make a diagnosis.
- Keep a log. Migraines? Cough? Rash? Keeping track of when things began and how often they occur can be extremely helpful to your doctor. And if the issue is related to digestive health, write down if you ate or what you ate before the problem hit – it may just be the answer to solving the puzzle.
- Know and understand your meds. If this is a new doc, make a list of all the medications you take (including herbal supplements). If you’ve been there before, they probably already have the information stored electronically. But it’s important to be thorough—and honest — with your doctor to avoid any adverse interactions between meds. Note any side effects that you’ve experienced with any current prescriptions.
- New prescription? Ask about possible side effects and dosage. How often should you take it? With or without food? What should you watch out for?
- Thou shalt not lie — not to your doctor, at least. If you aren’t honest, they won’t be able to get a clear picture of what’s really going on.
- Ask or you won’t receive. Doctors are healers, but not mind readers. We all have health concerns we’re a little embarrassed to talk about, but doctors are bound by patient confidentiality. They can’t tell anyone else – and to be honest, they’ve pretty much heard it all. So go ahead and tell them about those irritating hemorrhoids. If you don’t mention the problem they can’t help you solve it.
- Are you facing a frightening diagnosis? Or a chronic health problem? Or just getting a bit forgetful? These are just a few of the reasons to take someone with you. If you become overwhelmed or confused, they can help you remember your doctor’s diagnosis and instructions. And even with a friend along for the ride, it never hurts to ask your practitioner to write it all down for you to lookover more thoroughly later.
- And finally, PACE yourself – by using the PACE guidelines established by the American Heart Association.
- Provide information about how you feel.
- Ask questions if you don’t have enough information.
- Clarify what you hear.
- Express any concerns you might have.
Just because you’re on the “wrong” side of 50, doesn’t mean you have to act or feel old — as long as you take care of yourself. And when you do need to see a doctor, remember to make the most of it.