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Asserting Yourself at Your Doctor’s Appointments

separator There’s some feeling among older people that they don’t get enough attention from their doctors. And some older people even believe the healthcare system in general discriminates against them. Is there really age discrimination among some healthcare providers? Maybe there is some, and that’s not okay. But there are things you can do to make sure your doctor listens to your concerns. Remember—part of being a wise patient is standing up for your rights to get the medical care you deserve.

Getting the most of your doctor visit
One of the biggest issues for doctors and their patients—patients of any age—is time. Doctors are expected to squeeze in more patient visits now than ever before. They used to have more time to listen to the concerns of their patients. Today, that’s not usually possible. What can you, as a patient, do to make sure you get the most out of your doctor visit?

List your concerns. If you’ve got more than one thing you’d like to talk about with your doctor, make a list, putting the most important things first. There may not be time to talk about everything, but at least you’ll get to whatever is highest on your list.

List the drugs you’re currently taking. It’s easy to forget things when you’re in the doctor’s office. A written list of all your medications will make things easier.

If you have a hearing aid or wear glasses, have them with you. You want to be functioning at your best to get the information you need from your doctor.

Consider taking a friend or family member to the doctor with you. Another set of ears can remind you what you want to talk about and help remember everything the doctor said during the appointment.

Tell your doctor about any big changes in your life. If you’ve recently moved, if you’ve been to the emergency room, if you’ve lost a loved one—these are the kinds of things you should tell your doctor. Big life events can have an effect on your health, and it will help your doctor to know about them.

“At your age…”

Recently, an article in the November issue of the AARP Bulletin talked about studies that have shown that older people may not always get the most appropriate treatment for their condition. The article gave the example of older cancer patients whose doctors don’t refer them to cancer specialists out of the belief that older people don’t want chemotherapy or can’t tolerate it.

What can you, as an older person, do about this kind of discrimination if you run into it?
Listen carefully. Do you hear your doctor saying things like, “At your age, I don’t want to put you through this kind of treatment?” Your primary care doctor may have a mistaken understanding of what is and is not appropriate for older patients. So it’s possible that sometimes treatment recommendations are based on unintended, subconscious age discrimination.

Listen to your intuition. If you’re getting the feeling that your doctor may not quite understand what’s best for you, it’s time to take action. If you think maybe you’re not getting all the benefits the healthcare system has to offer you, speak up.

Ask your doctor whether there’s reason to believe people of your age shouldn’t have a certain test, procedure or treatment. If you get the feeling that your doctor just isn’t on your wavelength, it might be time to look for a different doctor. On the other hand, telling your doctor what’s on your mind may be just what you need to get things moving in the direction you need them to go.

If you want the same kind of chemotherapy that a younger person would get, tell your doctor, and ask if there are any reasons why you shouldn’t get it. If having preventive screening tests is important to you, and you don’t think you’re getting these frequently enough, mention your concern to your doctor. Sometimes, asserting yourself and stating your needs will get you the kind of care that’s most appropriate for you.

AARP Bulletin, November 2003; National Institute on Aging.
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