We know what we should be doing to live healthier lives — eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, refrain from smoking or drinking too much — but as we also know, this doesn’t always happen. Who wants to confess that we haven’t always followed ‘doctors orders’ 100 per cent or be seen as less than a model patient?
While it may be tempting say what we think the doctor wants to hear, it’s clearly not in our best interest to do so. How, after all, can you get the best treatment if your doctor doesn’t know what’s really going on?
Here are 10 secrets not to keep from your doctor — and some useful tips for dealing with the more sensitive subjects.
What you need to tell your doctor
Alcohol, smoking, illegal drugs
Anyone at any age can have a problem with substance abuse. Be honest with your doctor about how much you drink, smoke or take any illegal drugs so that any health problems can be accurately diagnosed and treated. (Alcohol in particular can become a problem in later life, partly because the aging process affects how the body handles alcohol.) Keep in mind that there are strict privacy laws between a doctor and patient, so the information will not be shared.
Set embarrassment aside and let your doctor know if you’re experiencing any problems controlling your bladder or your bowels, or if you’ve noticed any changes in bowel habits including the appearance of blood in your stool (which could be an indication of colorectal cancer). Urinary incontinence can often be treated through medication, exercise or in some cases, surgery.
Sexuality remains important throughout life, so if you are encountering any problems, don’t assume they are a normal part of aging and can’t be treated. Also, be sure to consult with your doctor about any effects of a medication, illness or disability on sexual function.
And if you’ve started dating again, particularly after being in a long relationship, or are having sex with a new partner, make sure you’re informed on the latest safe sex practices to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS. Practicing safe sex is always important, whatever your age.
Herbs, supplements and alternative treatments
Does your doctor frown upon alternative medicine? No matter. Be sure to pass on all information on the herbs, supplements or other alternative treatments you’re taking. Certain herbs and supplements don’t mix well with medications, and can lead to less effective treatment, or worse yet, cause dangerous interactions.
For many people, talking about money is taboo. Yet we all know that prolonged financial stress can lead to health problems. Let your doctor know if you’re experiencing ongoing financial difficulties or if you’d like to look into cheaper or generic medications to save on costs.
Depression or ongoing sadness
In addition to money, many people have trouble talking about their feelings, but depression is a serious disease — and too dangerous to keep a secret. Let your doctor know if you experience any symptoms of depression including ongoing sadness (for no particular reason), lack of energy, poor appetite, trouble sleeping or little interest in life. More on depression here.
Bad lifestyle habits
If you don’t exercise regularly (or at all) and eat badly, be honest about it. Discuss the situation and any particular challenges you have with your doctor — and perhaps together you can come up with a plan to develop more healthy habits.
Defying the doctor’s orders
Okay, so you’re not doing your breast exams every month, or you’re having trouble remembering to take your prescription medications. Such behaviour can pose serious risks to your health but if you admit your difficulties, your doctor may be able to come up with ways to help.
This is another tough one to admit. With aging, many people worry about their ability to maintain cognitive performance. However, if you or your family notice any changes in your memory or thinking, let your doctor know. Memory problems can be caused by a number of factors including depression, infection, and a side effect of medication — or they can be a symptom of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Determining the cause is important for selecting the best plan of care. Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, medicines can help, especially in the early stages of the disease.
A ‘small’ problem that may seem silly or unimportant
Don’t hesitate to talk about subtle or potentially silly-sounding worries or difficulties for fear of looking foolish or wasting the doctor’s time. The mole on your arm that’s been a little itchy just might be an early symptom of skin cancer. Another example: Studies have shown that for many older people, a fear of falling can keep them from going about their normal activities — and as a result they may become frailer, which actually increases their risk of falling. A doctor, on the other hand, could recommend ways to reduce chances of falling such as exercises that help to improve balance and strengthen muscles.