Senior Health: How to Be Your Own Advocate

My grandpa Jack (or “Jacko” as we called him) was a rebel. He was a whippersnapper as a child and went on to be kicked out of not one, but two high schools as a teen. I guess you could say that this carried over into his adult years and as he aged, but he rebelled in a different way. Jacko never went to the doctor. I think that a big part of the reason why he never went was fear; he was afraid of what could be. Jacko was happy with not knowing, but is this how things should be? Not if you can help it!

Now, answer a few questions: what kind of relationship do you have with your doctor? Are you comfortable asking questions to clarify something if you don’t understand it? Do you feel as though you are being heard and your needs are being met? Everybody – especially aging seniors, like Jacko - should be their own health advocate, and you should truly view the relationship you have with your doctor this way. Developing a collaborative partnership with your doctor can be crucial to your health and wellbeing. Here are some helpful hints to get you started:

Be prepared. Write down a list of things you’d like to address, such as concerns you may have, any major life changes that you’ve experienced, questions you may have, medications you are currently taking and anything else you’d like to address. Prior to going to the doctor, be sure to sit down and think about these things so you are able to make the most out of the short time you are there. Making a list will not only help you to remember the things you’d like to address, but it will also help you stick to the point and communicate clearly.

Take notes. Along with your list of items to address, bring a pad of paper or a tape recorder (with your doctor’s permission) to log what is said during your appointment. This will help you to share the details of what was said in case you have a hard time remembering afterwards or you are not comfortable with restating medical terminology that was discussed.

Keep a health journal. Buy a notebook to jot down the aforementioned items in. Keep it at your bedside and update it each time you get sick or have a new symptom, or just to keep track of how you’re feeling each day. And, of course, bring your notebook to appointments and take notes. These helpful insights can provide you and your doctor with context that may help down the road.

Ask questions and give feedback. Again, you are your own advocate and it is your right to play an active role when you visit your doctor. If you need something to be clarified, don’t ever hesitate to share any questions you may have with your doctor. In fact, write down all of the questions you have in your notebook to ask at the end of the appointment. You should also feel free to give feedback – let your doctor know if he or she is being too medical, or if they are not explaining things in enough detail. If you do not feel comfortable asking your doctor questions or giving feedback, it may be a sign that you need a new doctor with whom you will feel comfortable because two-way communication is imperative in a doctor-patient relationship.

Whether you adopt all or just a few of these points, the take-away from all of this is to just go. This is so important that we’re dedicating an entire series of entries geared toward helping you to assess your relationship with your doctor and empowering you to take the next steps to being an advocate for yourself in the doctor’s office. Whether it is finding a new doctor or preparing questions to ask at your next appointment, there are some small steps you can take to promote a solid doctor-patient relationship. Do you have a family member or friend like Jacko? What would you recommend to motivate them to visit their doctor regularly? Share your ideas now!

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