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Successful Aging: Too many doctor appointments? 6 tips to maximize wellness visits

I am 65 years old and basically quite healthy. Yet I feel I am always going to a doctor’s office for something. It could be for a bone density test, teeth cleaning, eye exam, gynecological exam, colonoscopy plus flu, pneumonia and shingles, vaccines. Is this typical? B.L.

Dear B.L.

Indeed, these appointments can be time-consuming. Here’s another way to reframe your concern. Each one of the tests or examinations you noted is proactive to determine if you are continuing to be healthy or if there is a sign of possible trouble ahead. These tests are a gift for early detection. We know that preventive measures can slow down the progression of many diseases common for older adults. If that condition is not caught early, it can progress quickly.

So, what is typical for older adults? According to the Aetna Health Care Guide, those between 65 and 70 should visit their internists or family medicine physician at least once a year for a general checkup. With age, it is recommended to have doctor visits more frequently. Those in their 70s should visit their doctor twice a year while those in their 80s and beyond should visit the doctor at least three times a year. Note these are averages and each older adult is unique. Clearly, if one is experiencing changes in mood, behavior or feelings of well-being, visits may be more frequent, especially with new aches and pains.

At the same time, the Mayo Clinic indicates that there is no hard and fast rule about how often older adults should see their health care providers. They suggest that for most older adults to have at least one medical checkup a year.

There are reasons older adults don’t visit their doctors. Some aren’t experiencing any symptoms or just ignore them. Others doubt the doctor can provide solutions to their problem. One of the most common reasons to avoid seeing a doctor is the lack of transportation. And then there is money. Older people may be trying to save a few dollars or they just lack the funds to afford medical care.

Here are some tips to maximize a visit with your doctor or other health-care providers as suggested by the National Institute on Aging:

1. Topics to discuss: Make a list of what you want to address. Getting a flu shot? A symptom that is bothering you? If you have several items to discuss, prioritize them and present them at the beginning of your appointment, not the end.

2. Drug information: Make a list of all your prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins and herbal remedies or supplements and note the dosages. You also could just bring them in a bag.

3. Bring a family member or friend: Sometimes this can be helpful. Your friend is a second pair of ears and can take notes if needed. However, make sure that your friend or family member doesn’t take over. Also, you might want some time alone with the doctor to discuss personal matters. Feel free to excuse your companion from the room.

4. Updating: Let your doctor know what health-related events have occurred since your last visit. For example, were you treated in the emergency room or seen by a specialist? Also note changes in your appetite, weight, sleep or energy level.

5. Use of an interpreter: If your doctor doesn’t speak your language, ask the doctor’s office to provide an interpreter. Call ahead of time so plans can be made. If you don’t understand your diagnosis or instructions, ask for clarification and don’t be intimidated.

6. Your glasses and hearing aids: Remember to take them with you. And make sure your hearing aid is working well. If you are having a hard time hearing, speak up and say something like, “I am having difficulty hearing you. It would be helpful if you would speak slowly and face me while you are talking.”

B.L. Thank you for your good question. Here is a thought. Consider scheduling those well visits over a few months. That may help. Stay well and keep those appointments.

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