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Getting Older & Talking with Your Doctor

Planning Your Doctor Visit

How well you and your doctor talk to each other is one of the most important parts of getting good health care. Unfortunately, talking with your doctor isn’t always easy. In the past, the doctor typically took the lead and the patient followed. Today, a good patient-doctor relationship is a partnership. You and your doctor can work as a team.

Creating a basic plan before you go to the doctor can help you make the most of your visit. The tips in this chapter will make it easier for you and your doctor to cover everything you need to talk about.

Listing Your Symptoms

Talking about your health means sharing information about how you feel. Sometimes it can be hard to remember everything that is bothering you during your doctor visit. Making a list of your symptoms before your visit will help you not forget to tell the doctor anything.

Symptoms can be physical, such as pain, fever, a lump or bump, unexplained weight gain or loss, change in energy level, or having a hard time sleeping. Symptoms can also involve your thoughts and your feelings. For example, you would want to tell your doctor if you are often confused, or if you feel sad a lot.

When you list your symptoms, be specific. Your list should include:

  • what the symptom is
  • when it started
  • what time of day it happens and how long it lasts
  • how often it happens
  • anything that makes it worse or better
  • anything it prevents you from doing.

Being honest about what is bothering you does not mean you are complaining. The doctor needs to know how you feel to help figure out your health problem. A physical exam and medical tests provide important information, but it is your symptoms that point the doctor in the right direction.

Listing Your Medications

Your doctor needs to know about ALL the medications you take. Medications include prescription drugs, over-the-counter (non-prescription) drugs, vitamins, herbal remedies or supplements, laxatives, and eye drops.

Sometimes doctors may ask you to bring all your medications in a bag to your visit. Other doctors suggest making a list of all your medications to bring to your visit.

If you do make a list of the medications you take, do not forget to write down how much you take and how often you take it. Make sure to tell the doctor if a dose has changed or if you are taking a new medicine since your last visit.

Write down or bring all your medications even if you think that one or some of them are not important. The doctor needs to know everything you take because sometimes medicines cause problems when taken together. Also, sometimes a medicine you take for one health problem, like a headache, can cause another health problem to get worse.

Write down any medication allergies you have and any bad side effects you have had with the medicines you take. Also, write down which medications work best for you.

Bring your insurance cards, names and phone numbers of your other doctors, and the phone number of the pharmacy you use. Also, bring your medical records if your doctor does not have them.

Habits and Life Changes

To provide the best care, your doctor must understand you as a person and know what your life is like.

Be sure to let your doctor know if you use any assistive devices to help you in your daily activities. Assistive devices can help you see, hear, stand, reach, balance, grasp items, go up or down stairs, and move around. Devices used by older adults may include canes, walkers, scooters, hearing aids, reachers, grab bars, and stair lifts.

Be prepared to tell your doctor about where you live, if you drive or how you get around, what you eat, how you sleep, what you do each day, what activities you enjoy, what your sex life is like, and if you smoke or drink alcohol.

Be open and honest. It will help your doctor to better understand your medical conditions and figure out the best treatment choices for you.

Sometimes things happen in life that are sad or stressful. Your doctor needs to know about any life changes that have occurred since your last visit because they can affect your health. Examples of life changes are divorce, death of a loved one, or changing where you live.

Your list should include all your life changes but does not need to go into detail. It can be short like “had to sell home and move in with daughter.”

Also, write down and tell your doctor if you had to go to the emergency room, stay in the hospital or see a different doctor, such as a specialist, since your last visit. It may be helpful to bring that doctor’s contact information.

Content Created/Medically Reviewed by our Expert Doctors
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