Seniors’ visits to the doctor, especially those that require an annual physical exam, become more important as they age. Many seniors have felt that they didn’t ask the right questions or provide the information about their health or related symptoms during their visit.

In some cases, the senior has hearing problems and is unable to hear or understand exactly what the doctor is saying. For those individuals, having a family member, friend or caretaker accompany them to the doctor is critical so that they can relay the information between patient and doctor.

U.S. Preventive Medicine, a company that says it’s working to organize and advance a culture of prevention throughout the country, has released a checklist of 12 important tips to help consumers get the most beneficial results from their annual physicals.

1. Prioritize and verbalize personal concerns and goals. In advance of the appointment, be certain to identify all primary health and wellness concerns as well as expectations and goals for the visit. Address these with your doctor upon arrival.

2. Review family medical history. One of the most important steps in an annual physical is to update or review the history of illnesses in blood relatives. Many diseases have a strong hereditary predisposition. Make sure you know your family history and provide a detailed outline to your doctor.

3. Get an examination the old-fashioned way. A thorough physical must include a thorough physical examination, no matter how uncomfortable, for early detection and prevention.

4. Address the potential for metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome increases the risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular diseases and is easily diagnosed through a cholesterol or lipid profile, blood glucose (sugar), blood pressure readings and measurement of waist circumference. However, metabolic syndrome is not routinely addressed by many doctors during a physical. Take the initiative and ask if you should be assessed for it.

5. Ask about screening for chronic diseases. Early detection leads to improved prognosis for many of the most common chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Unfortunately, most people neglect one or more of the crucial screening tests that can identify chronic disease even before they become symptomatic, thereby missing the opportunity for early detection and successful treatment. Talk to your doctor about a schedule of recommended preventive screenings.

6. Discuss unhealthy habits or lifestyle choices. The confidential nature of the doctor/patient relationship provides a safety zone in which to freely discuss concerns patients may have about potentially dangerous habits or lifestyle choices. Issues that should routinely be addressed include tobacco use, alcohol intake, eating disorders, medication overuse and unsafe sexual practices. While these are highly sensitive topics, they each have significant medical implications that should be considered during the exam.

7. Evaluate the best diet. Optimal wellness and disease prevention can’t be achieved without a healthy nutritional plan. Discuss nutrition with your doctor at each annual physical and consider consultation with a registered dietician to determine the best diet to satisfy individual medical concerns.

8. Create an exercise regimen – even if you have physical limitations. Some people may have physical conditions that they assume limit or negate altogether their ability to follow a beneficial exercise regime. Ask the physician for a referral to a clinical exercise physiologist, physical therapist, or cardiac rehabilitation program for an exercise evaluation and individualized prescription.

9. Discuss mental health issues. The “mind-body connection” is not just a catchy phrase. There is strong scientific evidence that stress, anxiety and depression have significant effects on well-being. Each annual physical should include an open discussion of personal stressors (occupational concerns, financial difficulties, family illness, elderly relatives, etc.) and any symptoms of anxiety, irritability, tension or depression.

10. Evaluate sleep patterns. A restful night’s sleep is of paramount importance to ongoing good health. During the visit, discuss sleep patterns and note any loud or disruptive snoring, periods of apnea (pauses in breathing) or drowsiness during the daytime. Difficulties with frequent urination during the night, insomnia, restless legs and early morning awakening should also be mentioned as these are symptoms that may indicate other medical conditions.

11. Review the list of prescription and over-the-counter medications you currently take. While medications and supplements may have life-saving benefits or provide symptom relief, all may induce detrimental side effects in some individuals under certain circumstances. Provide your doctor with a complete list of all prescription and over-the-counter medications, vitamins, herbs or other supplements that you are taking or have recently taken.

12. Keep a copy of the paperwork. Request a copy of all laboratory work, diagnostic studies, consultations and the physician’s report for your personal records. Maintain a notebook or binder with all of your medical records and any nutritional or exercise recommendations. By keeping everything organized in one place, you’ll be better able to take control of your own health.

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