African Americans face a higher risk of some serious health conditions, including diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, cancer, asthma and obesity. Despite that, it's no secret that many of us avoid going to the doctor and don't schedule regular checkups.
We avoid doctor visits out of fear, because it's not part of our routine, or out of concern that we can't afford it. When your loved one puts off seeing the doctor, a small health problem can become a serious one. And some of the most serious health issues don't have obvious symptoms.
Where you come in
You may be the one person who can persuade your loved one to go to the doctor. Getting him or her through the door is the key. Doctors can assess someone's health and well-being by asking basic questions about diet and lifestyle, and running some quick tests. Also, the doctor may be able to suggest behaviors or treatments to minimize serious health problems.
While it's important for people of all ages to see a doctor regularly, people age 50 and over are more at risk for a host of medical conditions and should see a doctor at least once a year. Here are just a few reasons you should take a loved one to the doctor:
- Help your loved one learn what he or she needs to do to get and stay healthy.
- Reassure the whole family about your loved one's health.
- Use this as a reminder to see the doctor yourself.
- You might save a loved one's life!
What if the person doesn't want to go?
Even though your loved one trusts you, you might need to turn on your powers of persuasion to get him or her to agree to see a doctor. People have a long list of reasons for avoiding doctor visits. Don't fight them on every point. Just ask them to do it for you and the rest of the family. Use "I" statements like, "Mom, I see you're having trouble sitting down and standing up, and I'm concerned." Tell them you want to enjoy their company for many more years to come, and this is one quick, easy step in helping to make that happen.
(To help motivate yourself to do this, take the Tom Joyner "Take Your Loved One to the Doctor" pledge.)
If your loved one is uninsured, check out the tip sheet in this kit for finding affordable care in your community.
Before the appointment
Preparing a little in advance will help your loved one get a lot more out of the doctor visit. Here are some suggestions for information that your loved one's doctor will find useful. But remember: The most important thing is going to the doctor, so don't worry if you cannot get all of this information together before the visit.
- Questions for the doctor: Help your loved one take control of his or her health by making sure the doctor addresses all of your questions thoroughly. The best way to do this? Write the questions down in advance. See our sample list of questions.
- Bring all medications your loved one is taking to the doctor. Doctors ask what medications the patient is taking. By bringing in the bottles, you won't have to wonder if you remembered everything, and the doctor can see the dose and frequency of each drug.
- Bring some health history information. Write down diseases, surgeries, family history of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, etc. You may want to review a list of tests and immunizations suggested for the age of your loved one.
At the doctor
Your loved one may not want you to join him or her in the examination room. Do not insist on this. The person's need for privacy should be respected. But do try to ensure that you and your loved one get all of your questions answered before the appointment ends.
If the doctor seems to be rushing through the appointment, be polite but firm in asking for more time for your loved one. Do not leave the doctor's office until ALL of your questions are answered! A staff nurse or physician assistant may also be helpful in answering questions.
If you are in the examining room, take notes for your loved one. If not, urge him or her to write down the doctor's answers to your questions and any special instructions on lifestyle and diet changes.
If the doctor orders follow-up tests — for example, blood tests for cholesterol, diabetes or other conditions — make sure you get clear instructions on how and where to do the tests and whether there are any out-of-pocket expenses. This will help make those tests go more smoothly for your loved one.
After the appointment
Based on the doctor's recommendations, new medications, daily exercises or changes in diet may be necessary for your loved one. These changes may seem small to you, but they can feel burdensome to many people. Be sensitive to your loved one and commit as much time as you can to help him or her meet health goals.
Let's be real: Lifestyle changes can be hard. For example, it's often not easy for people to start exercising. So start with the easy things. For example, most people can start walking more. Walking is easy, convenient and inexpensive. Nearly everyone can do it at any skill level, from grandparents to children. Plus, it has the lowest dropout rate and injury rate of all exercise programs. Also, studies show that people who have exercise partners — even if for a simple 10-minute walk a few days a week — stick with their exercise plans better than people who try to go it alone. So help your loved one find a neighbor or friend to walk with.
Everyone who commits to lifestyle changes slips up — whether it's overeating, sneaking a cigarette, or skipping a day or two of exercise. That's OK! We're all human. The key is to get your loved one to focus on the long-term goal — a healthier lifestyle.
One easy way you can continue to help is by having frequent phone calls with your loved one — just a few minutes — to check in and ask how everything's going.
The most important step here is getting a loved one to a doctor. You can do it! Your loved one, and all of his or her other loved ones, will thank you!