Over 50? Time to Take Charge of Your Healthcare… And Your Well-being

Regardless of your current health situation, whether you have an acute illness like cancer, a chronic illness like arthritis, or in the blissful state of no complaint, I can recommend some new ways to manage your own wellness, inside and outside of the doctor’s office. Treat Your Physician Like a Professional, and Not Your Best Friend. When I talk to physicians, I meet some who are clearly open to answering their patients’ questions, learning from their patients, and making compromises on treatments and treatment regimens, even working with their patients on integrating traditional and alternative approaches. These physicians tell me that active patients make their jobs easier. I meet others who are annoyed with patients who are “too educated for their own good” and who “only scare themselves by reading too much.” Some physicians would rather listen to a complaint, make a diagnosis, and write a prescription. Choosing a physician on the spectrum that works for you is important. It you think keeping track of all of this information will be easy, think again. I have found that having a system for organizing my ideas and questions helps me talk to a doctor with more knowledge. It can be helpful to maintain your own list of health and wellness questions. Tack it on your bulletin board or stick it up with a magnet on the side of your refrigerator. As questions arise, pull the list down and add one more. And then use the list to guide your own research or take it with you to the next appointment with your physician or other healthcare practitioners. And then question everything your doctor recommends. If you can’t bring in information and present it to you physician for fear you will be patronized, or scolded, then find one who is not only open to your participation but encourages it. And when faced with a diagnosis, get a second opinion, and to do more of your own research. Explore Alternative Treatments. There is not a non-prescription alternative for every prescription drug, but in many cases there are. Is it absolutely necessary to have a prescription painkiller when an over-the-counter might do the same job, at a lower cost and possibly with fewer side effects? There are vitamins and herbals that might help your condition, and either replace prescription medications or even help them work better. Do the research on alternative treatment approaches, of which your physician or pharmacist is less qualified to give advice. Take Responsibility for a Healthy Lifestyle. When I am taking care of myself through diet, exercise, and a healthier lifestyle, I know I have a better daily life. Your physician can advise you on what you can do based on your age and condition, but it is up to you to do the work. Again, a healthy lifestyle is not as easy as taking a pill but it can also prevent the need for medication. Talk to a nutritionist about a diet you can live with. Find a way to stay active that fits with what you enjoy doing. Recent research is indicating that there is a link between both mental and physical activity and prevention of conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Ask Yourself Where You Hurt the Most. Physicians tell me that they often suspect that some of their office visits are motivated not by a need for medical attention but as a temporary fix for loneliness. Older people tell me that they don’t know how to fill their time. If they have children, they complain that they don’t come and visit them as often as they would wish them to. The days have become long and empty. The trip to the physician’s office, the planning and scheduling involved, the time in the waiting room, and the brief time spent with the doctor and nursing staff, can go a long way toward filling the day. Yet as we grow older we have opportunities to expand our family by creating new connections. Less encumbered by responsibilities at home, or by demanding professions, we are free to develop new friends. In other words, we can define ourselves as lacking in family or as evolving toward new kinds of relationships. If you find yourself unable to cope with feelings like anxiety, or loneliness, or depression, find a qualified counselor or therapist that you can talk to. The root of your medical complaint can also be emotional.