How Older Adults Can Get the Most Benefit From Medical Visits

Bring a friend or family member to listen and provide support

Elderly patient is delighted by the good news her nurse has just given her

Contributor: Ronan Factora, MD

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I am a geriatrician at Cleveland Clinic. By virtue of my job, I see patients over the age of 65. The average age of patients I see in my clinic is 85, and the oldest person I have ever had the honor of caring for was 105.  I also see patients in the hospital setting, as well as in the nursing home.

Through my experience seeing older patients, I realize bringing an accompanying person to a medical appointment helps ensure the best outcome from the visit, and delivers the added benefit of emotional support for the patient.

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Health problems interfere

Many of my patients have health problems that interfere with their ability to completely understand what happens during their medical visit.  Some of these individuals have significant difficulty hearing, which is associated with normal aging. Hearing loss often is exacerbated by lifelong exposure to loud noises — due to, for example, working in construction or manufacturing for many years — despite the help of a hearing aid.

In addition to hearing difficulties, my patients may experience vision problems, such as diabetic retinopathy, macular degenerationcataracts and glaucoma. These conditions may prevent my patients from being able to read the instructions I print for them in the after-visit summary at the conclusion of their appointment.

Other individuals have cognitive impairment or dementia that interferes with their ability to understand or remember the instructions I provide during their visit.

These are just a few reasons it’s important for many of those who are older to regularly — and for others only occasionally — bring someone with them to their visits.

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Other advantages

Having family members or friends come along can help the patient make sure all concerns are addressed by the physician.

They also can help confirm the medication list the physician has is correct. This list should include over-the-counter medications, vitamins, minerals and health/herbal supplements. While many individuals do not consider supplements to be medications,  sometimes — particularly in the cases of herbal supplements — they interact with prescribed medications.

Often, patients are unaware of what the prescribed medications are supposed to do. It is worthwhile for the patient and the individuals accompanying them to the visit to review the purpose of these medications with the medical provider.

This is also the opportunity to review whether the medications are doing what they are intended to do in the first place, and make sure the patient’s medical problems are being addressed appropriately.

Aside from the concerns that the patient brings to the visit, the physician also has to review the medical problems that are being managed to see if there are any new developments, review prior test results and determine if any additional testing is needed.

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Understanding instructions

At the end of a visit, a final plan is put into place that should address the concerns of the patient and the medical provider. The accompanying person can help make sure the patient understands the instructions of what to do next (written, if possible, for review after the visit).

This is the time for final questions about the plan of care, and having another person accompanying the visit can help make the sure instructions are understood and what to do if problems arise in the future. Importantly, that person can make sure the information is not lost.

Often, caring for an older adult requires a team that includes his/her friends and family members. I welcome and encourage a supportive friend or family member to accompany patients when they see me.

More information

Treatment guide for age-related macular degeneration

This post is based on one of a series of articles produced by U.S. News & World Report in association with the medical experts at Cleveland Clinic. 

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