Your Annual Wellness Visit

Recent changes in health care laws allow people who have Medicare to get a free wellness visit each year. Your annual wellness visit is the ideal time to check in with your doctor about the best ways to take care of your health.

As you age, you may need some new tests. Others may no longer be required. This is just one topic on your list to discuss when you meet with your doctor.

Here’s how to make sure you are prepared when you arrive at the office.

Write down your questions in advance

Bring the list with you. This ensures that you don’t forget to mention something important.

Bring a digital recorder

Ask your doctor if it’s OK to record the visit. It can be helpful to go back and listen again to the doctor’s recommendations when you have time to think more clearly.

Bring someone with you

You can ask a loved one to sit in on the visit with you. Your friend or relative can serve as an advocate. Your friend of family member may have questions or observations that can help you get the best medical care.

Bring your health records

Bring copies of your personal health records. This is important if this is your first visit or if it’s been a while since you saw this doctor. Let your doctor know about any other health care providers you see. You might also want to bring information about the health of your close family members. Certain diseases and conditions run in families. For example, if a brother, sister, parent, or adult child has been diagnosed with heart disease, diabetes, or cancer, your doctor may want to add that information to your file.

Bring a list of your medications and supplements

Let your doctor know what medicines you take each day. Make sure to include vitamins, herbal remedies, homeopathic remedies, teas, supplements, and prescription medications from all doctors you see. If it’s too much for you to write down, bring them all in a paper bag to show your doctor.

Talk about any changes you’re experiencing

Mention any new sensations, signs, or symptoms that you’ve been having. You should also bring up any significant changes in your life, such as the death of a loved one, retirement, or a change in lifestyle. These might have an impact on your health. Even difficult topics, such as changes in sex or bathroom habits, can and should be discussed with your doctor.

Ask about your numbers

This is a good time to check in on your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels, weight, body mass index, heart rate, and any other “numbers” that your doctor has been watching. Ask what you need to do to keep these measurements in healthy ranges.

Ask about screenings

Certain health screenings, such as those for the prostate, breast, and colon, are recommended for older adults. If your doctor doesn’t mention them, ask whether you should be screened during this visit or in the next few years.

Get needed immunizations

You should be vaccinated against the flu and whooping cough, or pertussis. The shingles and pneumonia vaccines may also be on your preventive health list. Ask your doctor about them.

Discuss any changes in your abilities

Sometimes it’s hard to face the changes that age brings, but bringing them up early may help your doctor treat them more effectively. If you’re having problems with daily activities for any reason, such as pain in your joints, memory problems, or difficulty seeing clearly, let your doctor know.

Here are other tips:

  • Ask if you need to see a specialist. People who live with chronic diseases, such as diabetes, may need to see specialists in addition to their regular doctor. If your doctor doesn’t mention this, you should ask.

  • Be honest about what you can do. Your doctor may have some recommendations for you about how to improve your health. Be honest about what will work for you. Let your doctor know if your living arrangements, budget, or transportation arrangements could interfere with the plan. That way, together you can come up with the best strategy for your health.

  • Ask for advice. Most people want to be as healthy and happy as they can be. If you are trying to quit smoking, lose weight, eat better, or cope with sadness that just won’t go away, ask your doctor for help.

  • Discuss advanced care options. It’s difficult to think about a time in the future when you may not be able to make health care decisions for yourself, but the reality is that many people go through that experience. Talk with your doctor about this issue now, while you are healthy. Your doctor can advise you about how to let your loved ones know what care you would want if you should ever be unable to speak for yourself.