Routine visits to the doctor are a key tool in maintaining our health as we age. But over the past 12 months, many older adults and their caregivers have delayed care because of the COVID-19 pandemic, opting to cancel medical appointments due to fear of exposure to the virus.
According to a nationwide survey by the National Opinion Research Center at the University Chicago, 1 in 6 older adults delayed or canceled essential medical treatment in the first month of the pandemic alone. Of those who deferred care, almost 40% put off non-essential treatment, while nearly a third went without preventative or primary care.
Checkups Key to Managing Chronic Illness
Because regular checkups are essential to maintaining good overall health—as well as preventing and/or detecting the progression of common diseases—missing appointments can be particularly devastating for older adults managing chronic illnesses.
“Routine visits to the doctor are a fundamental investment in our physical well-being and become increasingly important as we age,” says Dr. Lakelyn Hogan, Ph.D., gerontologist and caregiver advocate at Home Instead. “Seniors are typically more susceptible to chronic diseases and conditions, and yearly checkups allow doctors to monitor and observe changes in a patient’s health, identify signs of illness early on and recommend the necessary treatments.”
Scheduling time to see a health care provider can feel overwhelming for older adults, especially with the added fear of COVID-19. The best way to navigate this process is by preparing in advance. Below, Hogan shares a few suggestions to help aging adults plan ahead for a visit to the doctor and better anticipate what to expect.
5 Ways to Help Aging Adults Plan Ahead for a Doctor’s Visit
- Do your homework. Health concerns and needs change over time, and so has the current health care landscape. Before making an appointment, spend time researching which doctor best aligns with your needs and objectives for your checkup. What type of doctor are you looking for? Are they conveniently located? Are they within your insurance network? Do they have a positive reputation? What COVID-19 protocols have they put in place? It’s important to be thorough in your research and find someone who will make you feel comfortable.
- Explore appointment options. Due to the pandemic, many physicians have expanded options to offer virtual visits. While several practices have resumed in-person checkups, some doctors may still only offer virtual visits. If preferred, telemedicine appointments offer many benefits including convenience, limited exposure to germs and increased ability for caregivers or family members to act as advocates in real time. Talk to your provider about options for the safest way to schedule your visit and make sure to plan ahead for both options, either by arranging transportation to and from the doctor’s office or setting up a virtual workstation with good internet connection.
- Bring everything needed for a successful visit. Before a checkup, prepare to bring all necessary documents, such as a list of current medical conditions, allergies and medications, as well as up-to-date insurance information, health records and test results, if needed. It is also a good idea for aging adults and their caregivers to compile a list of questions to ask and any new information that needs to be shared since the last visit. This information will help the appointment flow more efficiently and effectively. It’s also a good time to ensure that vaccinations are up to date. And remember to bring up any questions about the flu or COVID-19 vaccine.
- Don’t overlook specialists. In addition to scheduling regular visits with primary care physicians, older adults and caregivers should make plans to see specialists such as the eye doctor and dentist on an annual basis. For example, an ophthalmologist can help catch early signs of age-related eye problems, including vision loss and cataracts.
- Follow public health guidelines. If planning for an in-person visit, remember to follow standard COVID-19 precautions. This includes wearing a face mask, using hand sanitizer, avoiding touching your face, practicing social distancing and following any additional staff directives.
While visiting the doctor is important at any age, it is especially crucial for older adults who face greater risks.
For older adults or caregivers who still have reservations about visiting a medical provider, telemedicine has made it possible to “visit” your doctor over the phone or via video session, presenting older adults with additional alternatives to in-person visits.
Whether scheduling an appointment virtually or in-person, now is the time to prioritize that annual checkup.
For more information on how to stay on top of your health and wellness, view our Senior Health and Wellbeing resources.