Learn How to Talk to Your Doctor

Changing physicians can be wrenching for older patients. My mother never got over it when her longtime doctor retired. The "new" doctor took care of Mom for more than 15 years, but she would still tell him what she thought he wanted to hear.

Now, my 70-something aunt, who has diabetes and Parkinson's disease, is going through a similar change. Her longtime physician is shifting to an endocrinology-only practice and has asked patients to find another primary care doctor.

As is widely recommended, my aunt brought to her first appointment with her new doctor a list of all the medications she's taking. But she also brought a sheet of paper on which she briefly described her youth, marriage, motherhood and other seminal life events, things essential to her personhood that she wanted her new physician to know.

Did my aunt talk about her fear that she'll become progressively disabled because of her Parkinson's? I suspect not. That's a hard thing to share with a total stranger, even one who has a thick file containing your medical history on her desk.

For others going through something similar, the National Institute on Aging has a helpful publication, "Talking With Your Doctor: A Guide for Older People." (For an online version: www.nia.nih.gov/HealthInformation/Publications/TalkingWithYourDoctor.) The aging institute is part of the National Institutes of Health.

Discuss medications: Too often older patients don't talk about their medications, even when they feel the drugs aren't working. A 2007 study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that 27 percent of seniors who decided to skip doses or stop taking a drug because of side effects hadn't discussed the matter with their physicians.

Acknowledge any problems: Don't chalk up troublesome symptoms to getting old and endure them stoically. That goes for problems such as incontinence, short-term memory loss, sexual dysfunction and depression. Many conditions that once were assumed part of "normal aging" can be treated and even prevented.

jegraham@tribune.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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