Heath and Aging

Talking With Your Doctor: A Guide for Older People

What Can I Say? Giving Information

Talking about your health means sharing information about how you feel physically, emotionally, and mentally. Knowing how to describe your symptoms and bring up other concerns will help you become a partner in your health care. Worksheets 1 and 2 at the end of this booklet can help.

Desk and chair at home where you prepare information to share with your doctor
Help your doctor better understand what's going on with your health by telling him or her about any symptoms you're feeling, medications you take, your daily habits, and other concerns.

Share Any Symptoms

A symptom is evidence of a disease or disorder in the body. Examples of symptoms include pain, fever, a lump or bump, unexplained weight loss or gain, or having a hard time sleeping.

Be clear and concise when describing your symptoms. Your description helps the doctor identify the problem. A physical exam and medical tests provide valuable information, but your symptoms point the doctor in the right direction.

Your doctor will ask when your symptoms started, what time of day they happen, how long they last (seconds? days?), how often they occur, if they seem to be getting worse or better, and if they keep you from going out or doing your usual activities.

Take the time to make some notes about your symptoms before you call or visit the doctor. Worrying about your symptoms is not a sign of weakness. Being honest about what you are experiencing doesn’t mean that you are complaining. The doctor needs to know how you feel.

Questions to ask yourself about your symptoms:

  • What exactly are my symptoms?
  • Are the symptoms constant? If not, when do I experience them?
  • Does anything I do make the symptoms better? Or worse?
  • Do the symptoms affect my daily activities? Which ones? How?

Give Information About Your Medications

It is possible for medicines to interact causing unpleasant and sometimes dangerous side effects. Your doctor needs to know about ALL of the medicines you take, including over-the-counter (nonprescription) drugs and herbal remedies or supplements. Make a list or bring everything with you to your visit—don’t forget about eye drops, vitamins, and laxatives. Tell the doctor how often you take each. Describe any drug allergies or reactions you have had. Say which medications work best for you. Be sure your doctor has the phone number of the pharmacy you use. Worksheet 3 at the end of this booklet can help.

Tell the Doctor About Your Habits

To provide the best care, your doctor must understand you as a person and know what your life is like. The doctor may ask about where you live, what you eat, how you sleep, what you do each day, what activities you enjoy, what your sex life is like, and if you smoke or drink. Be open and honest with your doctor. It will help him or her to understand your medical conditions fully and recommend the best treatment choices for you.

Voice Other Concerns

Your doctor may ask you how your life is going. This isn’t being impolite or nosy. Information about what’s happening in your life may be useful medically. Let the doctor know about any major changes or stresses in your life, such as a divorce or the death of a loved one. You don’t have to go into detail; you may want to say something like: “It might be helpful for you to know that my sister passed away since my last visit with you,” or “I recently had to sell my home and move in with my daughter.”

Publication Date: April 2010
Page Last Updated: April 28, 2016