The Australian population is steadily growing older, which often (although certainly not always), correlates to a deterioration in health. While old age doesn’t automatically cause poor health, almost 70% of Australian seniors will experience two or more chronic diseases and will likely see four different specialists on average per year.
Thus, as you age, your doctor becomes an increasingly more important figure in your wellbeing. While the prospect may not sound very exciting, regular visits to the doctor can drastically improve your health care and your prospects of living to a grand old age.
But you need to be sure you use the time spent in your doctor’s office wisely. Here are some of the important questions you need to raise with your doctor as you get older.
What can I expect with my condition/disability/injury?
If you’ve recently been diagnosed with a medical condition, disability or injury, you may be feeling uncertain and confused. Your doctor is the best person to shed some further light on your condition. Make sure you are asking questions such as:
- How long will this affect me?
- What symptoms are normal?
- Will my symptoms change or worsen over time?
- What are my worst days going to be like? What are my best days going to be like?
- What caused my condition? How can I prevent it from worsening?
- Do I need to make any lifestyle changes?
How can I reduce my pain/discomfort/symptoms?
Medical conditions come with their own unique range of symptom, which may include pain and discomfort. Naturally, you want to be able to find relief from the pain and reduce the symptoms of your condition. Ask your doctor:
- How should I treat the symptoms or pain associated with my condition?
- What costs will be involved with this?
- How long will I need to be on this treatment?
- How effective are these treatments usually?
- What are the risks and side effects associated with the treatment?
Should I really be taking all these medications?
Many older people have complex health conditions and care needs, and the medications can quickly start to pile up. Before you start on any new medication, ask your doctor if it is really necessary – and make sure that you are only taking medications that you really need to.
As well, you may have a number of different doctors or specialists who don’t communicate with each other, which can lead to complications when it comes to medications. If you’re being put on any new medications, you first need to find out if the new medication will negatively interact with any of your current medications. Your various healthcare professionals may not know what other medications you are taking, so it’s always wise to keep an updated list of any medications you’re taking that you can show your doctor/specialist when needed. This will allow them to prescribe more suitable medications and protect your health.
Are there alternatives to medication/surgery that I could try first?
Medication and/or surgery should not be seen as the be-all-and-end-all when it comes to treating health conditions – but many doctors can be quick to prescribe them without explaining any other options. While medications and surgery can be a quick-fix and in some cases are necessary, they often come with side effects, and it’s definitely worth exploring alternative options before committing to medication or surgery. Physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, massage therapy – all can be helpful, and your doctor can write you a referral to these services.
What side effects might I experience from any necessary medications?
If medication is absolutely necessary, get advice from your doctor as to what side effects can be commonly experienced. They will be able to advise you on the seriousness of these side effects and whether and when you should be concerned.
What preventative care will I need in the near future?
Preventative care becomes more and more important as you get older, and there are many different types of screening that are recommended at various ages. Check with your doctor which ones you should be thinking about in the near future (such as mammograms, bone density scans, blood pressure and cholesterol checks, blood glucose checks, eyesight checks, waist circumference and BMIs etc.), and get them scheduled as appropriate.
As with most things, prevention is better than cure, so even if you feel healthy and well, it’s wise to keep up to date with screening for common heath issues. Make sure you ask your doctor if there’s anything you need to do to prepare for these tests, and whether they have any side effects or risks.
What is my risk of taking a fall?
Your doctor is in the best position to assess your fall risk, given your family history, medical conditions and current level of health. Falls can be extremely hazardous for older people, especially those in poor health and who are living alone. Your doctor should be able to advise you on any risk factors that may be causing concern, as well as ways to minimise those risks.
How long am I likely to be able to live independently?
While your doctor doesn’t have a crystal ball, they can give you their best guess based on their knowledge of your lifestyle, health, and medical conditions. Ask your doctor:
- How long am I likely to be able to live independently?
- How should I prepare for when I am no longer able to be independent?
- What help can I get when I can no longer manage?
- What local resources should I know about (such as Meals on Wheels, support groups or transportation options)?
- How will I know that it’s time to consider admission into an aged care facility?
Do you have any other concerns to share with your doctor?
This is not exactly a question to ask your doctor, but it is important to raise any concerns you may have. Your doctor is not a mind-reader, and things that may seem insignificant or unrelated might actually have some bearing on your condition. Your doctor should know about any pain you might be experiencing, any lapses in memory, and anything that might have changed recently in regard to your health.
Asking all these questions is going to lead to a lot of information uptake. Most people struggle to recall all the information given to them in a doctor’s office, so it’s a great idea to take along a notebook and write down a few quick notes to help you remember what your doctor said.
If you don’t understand your doctor’s responses, make sure you ask questions until you do understand. And don’t be afraid to ask your doctor to write down his or her instructions if that helps you remember them.