Seniors: A guide to talking with your doctor

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By Carol Downs

Taking an active role in your health care means working together as a team with your doctor, along with nurses, physician assistants, pharmacists and other healthcare providers. As you get older, it becomes more important to talk often and comfortably with your doctor, partly because you may have more health conditions and treatments to discuss.

To make the most of your appointment, make a list of what you want to discuss. This can include medications; any new physical symptoms or issues; changes in your appetite, weight, sleep, energy level or memory; everyday living, including falls, transportation, diet, exercise and living situation; and recent hospitalizations or emergencies.

Take a list of your current medications, both prescriptions and supplements. Ask about the possible side effects of any medication you are taking. Sometimes physical or emotional symptoms may be connected to specific medications.

Consider taking a family member or friend with you to the appointment and tell them ahead of the visit what you want to discuss with the doctor. Having another person with you can be helpful to remind you about the things you want to ask the doctor, as well as record any notes or instructions regarding what the doctor has recommended. If you are alone and have a mobile phone, ask if it is possible to record the conversation.

If blood or other lab tests are indicated, ask what the tests are meant to determine. Request a copy of the test results. Also, ask if the results need to be shared with any of your other healthcare providers.

Much of the communication between a doctor and patient is personal. Therefore, it is important to talk about sensitive subjects, including depression, grief, sex, alcohol use, incontinence, fear of falling, memory problems, feelings of isolation and mistreatment by family members or caregivers.

If there is something that was discussed during your visit that you are unsure of, you might repeat what you think the doctor said in your own words to make certain you are understanding it as she or he described.

Also, if you are not sure of the doctor’s instructions after you get home, call the office. A nurse can check with the doctor and call you back, or you can ask if there is an email address or online health portal you can use to send questions.

The writer is Virginia state president of AARP. Note: Information for this article was provided, in part, from the National Institute on Aging’s “A Guide for Older People Talking With Your Doctor.”

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