Seeing a doctor regularly is a vital investment for your health. Regular examinations catch problems early, when they are more treatable. This is particularly important for older adults, as susceptibility to illness increases with age.
At a minimum, people of any age should get a yearly checkup, even if nothing seems wrong. This visit gives the doctor a chance to monitor a patient’s health and compare their wellness to their last visit. This is especially important for senior adults, who more commonly have chronic and complex health concerns.
A doctor who regularly sees a patient can make a better diagnosis based on observed changes in that patient’s health. Management of chronic diseases also becomes more effective, as the physician has a better understanding of the patient’s health history.
This can prevent complications that are more serious, thus leading to fewer medical and emergency room visits. Altogether, regular doctor visits actually lower the patient’s health-care costs.
Developing a Relationship
A doctor who sees you regularly gets to really know you and your well-being. Just as importantly, you get to know the doctor. This relationship will help you communicate better with them. You will also feel more comfortable sharing information and asking questions. As a result, you will have more confidence in your care.
What is ‘Regularly?’
There is no fixed schedule that works for everyone when it comes to seeing a doctor. Factors such as age and health determine how often a visit is needed. An annual visit is recommended at the very least.
You should also consider the following:
- On your last visit, did your doctor recommend a date for your return?
- Did you go to this return visit?
- Has your health changed since your last visit, with a new or worsening symptom?
Getting the Most Out of the Visit
It might be advisable for a caregiver, friend, or relative to accompany an older adult to their doctor appointment. Not only will this person provide emotional and transportation support, but they serve as another set of ears to hear what the doctor recommends and another set of eyes to read any written instructions.
Before the appointment, the caregiver and older adult should discuss what they want to accomplish during the visit. Are there new symptoms or concerns to report? Is there anything that needs explanation or review? For example: You want to clear up any confusion about medications and questions about their effectiveness.
Bring a list of the medications and questions to the appointment, along with paper and pen to record information.
After the visit, caregivers and senior adults should compare notes to ensure that all are able to understand and follow through with the doctor’s recommendations. Do not hesitate to contact the doctor’s office if there are still any questions or misunderstandings.
Finally, find a safe place for the visit’s notes. Make sure the information from the visit is not lost.
Common Health Suggestions for Seniors
- Be sure to get a flu shot each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), people age 65 or older are at greater risk for complications from the flu. A high-dose vaccine is designed for people 65 or older. Other vaccine options such as nasal spray vaccine are not recommended for this age group. Check with your doctor.
- The CDC also recommends pneumococcal vaccines for those 65 or older. These protect against diseases seniors are more susceptible to like pneumonia, meningitis, and bloodstream infections.
- Some of the annual tests for senior adults recommended by the American Medical Association include the following:
- Blood work, which will vary between patients, but should include blood count, glucose tests and thyroid tests.
- A chest X-ray may be recommended and a fecal occult blood test to check for blood in the stool.
- For men, a prostate exam or PSA test up to the age of 75 is recommended to check for prostate cancer. Women should receive an annual mammogram until age 75, as well as a bone density test to detect loss of bone mass (osteoporosis).
- An annual vision screening is important to minimize vision loss from eye diseases like cataracts and glaucoma.
There are other tests recommended every two to five years, depending upon your age and physical condition. Your doctor may also want to run additional tests, based upon his or her knowledge of your health.
When Do You Need a Geriatric Physician?
A geriatric physician, or geriatrician, is a physician who specializes in the health of seniors. They are board-certified in family medicine or internal medicine. These doctors have additional training and experience in the treatment of disabilities and diseases for older adults.
In most cases, internal medicine or family practice doctors can serve as a primary care provider for senior adults. However, if there is a significant increase in frailty, or if managing the senior’s health becomes increasingly complex for caregivers, a geriatric physician may be considered.
Speak with your primary care physician. He or she can recommend what to do and refer you to a geriatric physician if that is what is needed.