Get the Most From Checkups in Your 50s and Older

Your annual checkup is a chance to review with your doctor any problems you've had and come up with a wellness plan for the next year. That's a lot to cover in a short time. The average doctor visit lasts just 20 minutes.

To make the most of the time you do have with your doctor, arrive a few minutes early, be prepared, ask questions, and bring your medical history with you.

What to Bring

You may want to bring a symptom diary written in a notebook or on your cellphone to share. The diary should include things such as:

  • What each symptom felt like
  • When it started
  • How long it lasted
  • What made it better or worse

Also bring a list of your medicines. Include the dosage and how often you take each one. Don't forget vitamins, supplements, herbal remedies, and medications you bought over the counter.

You can put your medicines in a bag and bring them with you, if that's easier. Let your doctor know if you need any prescription refills.

Your doctor might ask about your health history. Have notes with you, and be ready to answer questions about your:

  • Allergies
  • Recent illnesses or injuries
  • Hospital stays and surgeries
  • Vaccines
  • Diet and exercise habits
  • Use of alcohol, smoking, and recreational or illicit drugs

Also bring a record of your family's medical history. Include long-term diseases like diabetes and cancer in close family members like your:

  • Parents
  • Sister or brother
  • Aunts and uncles
  • Grandparents

Your family history can help your doctor learn your risks for certain diseases.

Bring along a list of all the other doctors you see. Have their addresses and phone numbers ready to give to your primary care doctor.

Also have a list of all the questions you want to discuss. Put the most important ones first in case you run out of time.

Be prepared to take notes. Bring a notebook or use the notes section of your cellphone. Jot down any instructions your doctor gives you and the answers to your questions. You might want to bring a friend, your partner, or another relative with you to help you take notes so that you can focus on what the doctor is telling you.

Finally, bring your glasses or hearing aids if you need them to read and hear instructions.

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What to Tell Your Doctor

Be prepared to talk about any symptoms you've had since your last visit. Discuss any changes to your diet, exercise, sleep habits, or stress level. Let your doctor know if you've seen any specialists, like a heart doctor (cardiologist) or arthritis doctor (rheumatologist).

Go over all of the medications you take. Ask whether any of them might interact with each other. Let your doctor know if any of your medicines causes side effects, and be ready to describe them.

Questions to Ask

Here are a few questions you might want to ask during your checkup:

  • Am I at risk for any health conditions?
  • Am I due for any routine screening tests or vaccines?
  • Do I still need all of the medicines I take?
  • Is there anything I can do to take better care of my health?
  • When should I make an appointment to see you again?

If you don't understand a medical term or anything else your doctor tells you during the visit, don't be afraid to ask. Also ask your doctor to explain any instructions that aren't clear, such as what time to take your medicine or the reason for a test your doctor has recommended.

How to Talk About Tough Subjects

You need to be honest with your doctor. They can only help if they know what's going on with you. Yet some subjects, like sex, memory loss, or urinary problems, can be hard to discuss, even with your doctor.

It's important to choose a doctor you're comfortable with. Start the conversation with a set-up phrase, like, "This is really hard for me to talk about." Then your doctor will know to respond in a more sensitive way.

Write down the problem. Use your notes as a guide to start the conversation, or let your doctor read them.

Try to explain the issue directly, for example, "When I pee, only a little bit dribbles out." If you're too vague, your doctor won't know what you're talking about.

If you're still not sure how to broach a sensitive subject, bring a book or a web page about it to help start the conversation.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on September 08, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

ACOG: "Making the Most of Your Health Care Visit."

BMJ Open: "International variations in primary care physician consultation time: a systematic review of 67 countries."

Cedars-Sinai: "How to Address Uncomfortable Topics With Your Doctor."

Cleveland Clinic: "Questions to Ask Your Doctor."

FamilyDoctor.org: "Preventive Care for Seniors."

National Institutes of Health: "A Guide for Older People: Talking With Your Doctor," "What Should I Ask My Doctor During a Checkup?"

South Shore Health: "Five Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Annual Physical."

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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