Older adults know they answer a lot of questions at the doctor’s office about their physical, emotional and cognitive fitness. It’s standard fare for all annual wellness visits. But doctors also glean important information about your health and well-being when you ask questions, too.
That’s why Dr. John Card urges patients who are 65 and older to feel free to ask about any concerns that come to mind — anytime you visit. Your questions not only reveal your health concerns but also insight into your plans and goals for this stage of life.
"You’ve worked all these years and this is the time to at least enjoy all that you’ve worked for," said Card, an internist at Novant Health Adult Primary Care Harper Hill in Winston-Salem. "Unfortunately, as we get older, sometimes that’s when problems start to develop."
Card suggests older patients prepare for scheduled visits in advance. He recommends jotting down questions as they arise and taking them to your appointment. No question is too big, too small or too personal, though it might take time or technology to work through some.
A simple mnemonic — 3M — can guide your thinking as you consider what to ask your health care provider about. It stands for medications, memory and mobility.
Medications: Nearly a third of older Americans visit at least five different doctors a year, according to a recent study, and it’s the job of primary care doctors like Card to coordinate that care. Managing medications is a key part of that. So take along all prescription medicines — and any dietary supplements you use — for a thorough review.
"Sometimes we get to a point where older patients are starting to get light-headed, they’re starting to get weak, they’re not eating as much and are starting to lose weight, and they may not need all of the medications that they were taking before," Card said.
Suggested questions: Which, if any, of my medicines can be eliminated? Am I getting the right doses and taking them properly? Am I at risk for dangerous drug interactions? Are any of my supplements interfering with my medicine? (Be sure to check with your provider before starting any vitamin, mineral or nutritional supplement.)
Memory: As you age, you may feel forgetful or confused at times — or friends and family may raise concerns about this. Asking your provider what’s to be expected at your age and what’s concerning can allay fears or start a conversation about the future. At the same time, don’t make the mistake of thinking simple forgetfulness is a sign of a deeper problem. More often than not, it’s not.
Sometimes you need a check-up as soon as possible.
Suggested questions: Is what I’m experiencing something to worry about? Could my diet or medication be causing memory lapses? Is something wrong if I forget to pay a bill or overdraw my checking account from time to time? What are some ways to compensate for occasional absent-mindedness? Do my memory and thinking skills need to be formally evaluated?
Mobility: Besides memory, an older person’s ability to navigate their living environment safely is key to his or her ability to live independently. Your doctor will ask about this often — and so should you.
Suggested questions: How can I prevent falls? Is it safe for me to climb stairs? Do I need aids like grab bars, toilet chairs, a walker, stair lift or a device that summons help if I fall? What can I do to stay strong and flexible? How will I know it’s time to think about assisted living? (This story has lot of great advice about setting yourself up to stay in your home later in life.)
Card also urges older adults to ask about setting up advance directives. These are legal documents that detail your wishes about life support and tube feeding at the end of life, and name someone to make treatment decisions if you are unable to do so for yourself. Check out the Novant Health Choices and Champions program for lots of expert advice.
No matter your question, remember: Your health care provider has probably heard it before. Being frank, even about matters like impotence or incontinence that may be embarrassing, will elicit the most helpful information and/or treatment plan.
Finally, if you leave your appointment and something that’s not urgent comes to mind, your Novant Health providers can entertain those questions in My Chart. Just go online and send a message.
This is the same technology they rely on to share results of blood tests or other screening exams or when one of the questions you asked at the office needed more time to answer. Your provider might even use My Chart to set up a virtual visit to follow up on your queries.
Whether you ask in the office or online, your questions are welcome. "This is your health and your well-being," Card said.