Doctor visits can be pretty short these days. The average checkup lasts a little over 15 minutes. Here’s how to make the most of your time with your doctor and screen for serious health problems as you age.
At each visit to the doctor:
- Bring notes about your medical history, current medications, and questions you have for your doctor.
- Bring someone you trust with you if you can. It may help you better understand or remember what the doctor tells you.
- Go over any new instructions or prescriptions.
Schedule an annual wellness visit or physical. This will be a longer exam than a checkup. At your wellness exam, the doctor will measure your weight, height, and body mass index. They’ll schedule any tests you need and go over your current medications.
If it’s your first visit with a new doctor, bring this information with you:
- List of your current medications and dosages, or your pill bottles
- Records of your recent physicals
- Personal and family medical history
- Vaccinations you’ve had
At every visit, tell the doctor about any symptoms you’ve noticed since your last appointment, like these:
- Lumps or bumps on your skin
- Trouble sleeping
- Unexplained weight loss
- Vision, hearing, or memory problems
- Mental health issues like depression, anxiety, or loneliness
- Sexual problems
Talk about any problems you have taking care of yourself, such as dressing, bathing, grooming, cooking meals, shopping, and mobility or balance problems like slips or falls.
Tell your doctor if you take any over-the-counter medications, herbs, or supplements too. They can stop your medications from working the way they should, so your doctor needs to know about them.
Remote Medical Visits
Your doctor’s office may offer telemedicine appointments in addition to office visits. It’s also called a video visit. While you’re in your home, you can see and talk to your doctor over a secure video link on your home computer, tablet, or smartphone.
Vaccines help protect you from serious illnesses. If you’re 65 or older, you’ll need to make sure you get these vaccinations as directed:
Flu. Get a seasonal flu shot every year, no matter what your age.
Tdap. If you never had a tetanus (lockjaw), diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough) or Tdap vaccine when you were a teenager, get one now no matter how old you are. Get a booster shot every 10 years.
Shingles. This vaccination is recommended for all adults 50 or older.
Pneumococcal polysaccharide (PPSV23). If you’re 65 or older, get a PPSV23 vaccine to protect you from pneumococcal diseases such as meningitis and serious blood infections.
Pneumococcal conjugate (PCV13). Recommended for all adults with any condition that weakens their immune system, a cochlear ear implant, or a cerebrospinal fluid leak to protect them from pneumonia and serious pneumococcal diseases. Check with your doctor if you’re over 65 and never got this vaccination.
COVID-19: Getting this vaccine and the booster will greatly reduce your chances of becoming seriously sick or dying from COVID-19.
Your doctor may suggest other screenings for you based on your age, family history, or current health. Most older adults have these health screenings:
- Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA): Men ages 65 to 75 who have smoked or have a relative who had an AAA repair should get this one-time screening. Women are less likely to have an AAA, but if you have a family history, your doctor may suggest screening.
- Blood pressure check
- Blood sugar levels to screen for diabetes
- Urinary incontinence
- Osteoporosis: Women 65 or over who’ve never had a fracture, or other things that raise their risk of osteoporosis, and men 70 or over should be screened for osteoporosis.
- Sodium and potassium levels
Aging adults also need these important cancer screenings:
- Breast cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends that women ages 45 to 54 should be screened with mammography annually, and women ages 55 and older should be screened once a year or every two years. Women ages 40 to 44 years may choose to start breast cancer screening once a year with mammography. The risks of screening as well as the potential benefits should be considered.
- Cervical cancer. If you’ve had normal results from Pap smears the last few years, or you had your cervix removed as part of a hysterectomy or for cancer treatment, the doctor will probably tell you that you don’t need screening. If you were diagnosed with a precancerous condition in your cervix, continue testing for 20 years after that date.
- Colorectal cancer. Men and women should get a colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, or fecal immunochemical test (FIT) starting at age 45 and regularly through age 75.
- Lung cancer. If you’re ages 50 to 80, and you smoke or used to smoke, talk to your doctor about a yearly cancer screening with a low-dose CT scan.
- Prostate cancer. Men between 50 and 69 may choose to get a prostate specific antigen (PSA) test. Your doctor will go over the potential risks and benefits of this test.
Vision and Hearing
As you age, you may get vision problems like macular degeneration or cataracts. Your risk of hearing problems goes up too. These issues can affect your independence and quality of life.
You should have a complete eye exam with an ophthalmologist (eye doctor) every 1-2 years after age 65. Get a hearing test at your annual doctor visits after you turn 65.
Medications you take and conditions like dry mouth can affect the health of your teeth and gums.
Regular dental exams and cleanings help prevent gum disease or tooth loss. The dentist will let you know how often to come in for an exam based on your oral health.
As you age, balance or mobility problems can put you at risk for falls.
After 65, the doctor may screen your balance and mobility once a year with these simple tests:
- Rise up from a chair, walk a short distance, walk back, and sit down.
- Hold your feet together and arms at your sides for 15 seconds, once with your eyes open and once with eyes closed.
Advance Planning Directive
This is a legal document that you’ll work with your doctor to create. It puts into writing what you want to do if you are unable to make health care decisions for yourself. Medicare covers advance care planning as part of your annual wellness visit. You can use a lawyer but you don’t have to. You may have to get the document notarized in some states. Your local Area Agency on Aging can let you know. When your directive is done, give your doctor a copy and let close family members know where to find a copy.
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Annals of Family Medicine: “How Experiencing Preventable Medical Problems Has Changed Patients' Interactions With Primary Healthcare.”
American Academy of Family Physicians: “Common Causes of Vision Loss in Elderly Patients,” “Hearing Loss in Adults: Differential Diagnosis and Treatment,” “Preventive Care for Seniors,” “Sexuality in Older Adults.”
South Shore Health: “Five Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Annual Physical.”
Cleveland Clinic: “How Older Adults Can Get the Most Benefit From Medical Visits.”
Beaumont Health: “Tips for a Productive First Appointment With a New Doctor.”
Mayo Clinic: “Mayo Clinic Q and A: Do healthy older adults need regular health care visits?”
National Institute on Aging: “What Do I Need to Tell the Doctor?”
Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Video Visits From Home.”
CDC: “Cancer Prevention and Control,” “Cervical Cancer,” “Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine,” “Recommended Vaccines by Age,” “Pneumococcal Vaccination: What Everyone Should Know,” “Prostate Cancer,” “Tdap/Td Vaccines,” "COVID-19 Vaccines and Risk Information for Older Adults," “What Vaccines Are Recommended for You?”
UpToDate: “Geriatric health maintenance.”
American Cancer Society: “Cancer Screening Guidelines By Age.”
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association: “Adult Hearing Screening.”
VisionAware.org: “Dual Sensory Loss Among Older Persons: A Growing Concern.”
American Academy of Ophthalmology: “Vision Screening Recommendations for Adults Over 60.”
American Family Physician: “Hearing Loss in Older Adults.”
American Dental Association: “Concerns,” “American Dental Association Statement on Regular Dental Visits.”
Geriatric Nursing: “Simple Balance and Mobility Tests Can Assess Falls Risk When Cognition Is Impaired.”
Medicare.gov: “Advance care planning.”
National Institute on Aging: “Advance Care Planning: Healthcare Directives.”