You are here:

Passing your physical exam

The annual check-up is important for older men. Here is how to make the most out of your visit.

Men have a long reputation for avoiding check-ups, and that resistance tends not to soften when they are older.

“Many older men put off exams because they fear finding out something is wrong,” says Dr. Suzanne Salamon, a geriatrician with Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “Also, many of today’s baby boomers don’t think they will have medical problems associated with age, so it can difficult for the ‘younger older men,’ like those in their 60s and early 70s, to see their doctor.”

Yet an annual physical exam is important. Many aspects of your health change on a regular basis as you age. Blood pressure rises and falls, memory loss increases, and risk of heart attack or stroke becomes greater.

“If these issues can be addressed early, they often can be slowed down or corrected before a serious problem arises,” says Dr. Salamon. “A regular medical check-up can help identify or monitor these and other potential health issues.”

A true team effort

The patient-doctor dynamic has changed over the years. While some people are comfortable following their doctor’s lead, others want more collaboration. “Whichever you prefer, your doctor needs to be flexible and work with your approach,” says Dr. Salamon. “If not, you may dread coming in, or avoid telling your doctor about any problems. If your patient-doctor relationship is not a good match, you may need to explore finding someone who fits your needs and personality.”

One constant issue that faces both patients and doctors is the exam’s short amount of time. Some estimates suggest the average meeting lasts about 18 minutes. How can you get the most out of that precious time? Here are some suggestions to ensure you get the most medical information, feedback, and guidance.

  • Make a list of issues to discuss. Organize it so the main ones are at the top, and be mindful that you may not get to everything.

  • Refrain from nonmedical chitchat. Do not spend too much time talking about family and life events. “Before you know it, you have gone through five to 10 minutes before the exam can even really begin,” says Dr. Salamon. Many doctors try to reserve time at the end for any questions, and that can be when you discuss other nonmedical topics.

  • Bring someone with you. A study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that a companion strengthens the patient-doctor line of communication. He or she can provide patient information directly to the doctor and explain the doctor’s instructions to the patient, if needed, so nothing gets missed. Also, if you are nervous about doctor visits, a problem commonly called “white-coat syndrome,” a companion who stays with you in the exam room can help you stay calm.

  • Bring all medications for review. “Medications are extremely important, and many older people are on too many drugs,” says Dr. Salamon. “They should review them with their doctor on a regular basis to see if any can be eliminated or reduced.” A list of your drugs is not enough. You need the actual medications in their bottles. “The doses may be wrong or omitted, and there may be duplicates, which are not reflected on a list,” she says.

  • Question any new medication. If you are prescribed a new medication, always ask why you need it, what the potential side effects are, what the consequences of not taking it are, and how it might interact with your current medications. The medication might not be in your best interest right now.

  • Ask if there are any practices you should follow. This includes preventive medicine, from vaccinations and screening tests (see box) to proper exercise routines and maintaining an ideal weight. “Doctors should be up on the latest studies and guidelines. Ask them what they know that could apply to you and your current health needs,” says Dr. Salamon.

Vaccinations and screening tests

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that men receive certain immunizations and screenings. You should ask your doctor about when and if you should undergo the following:

  • Annual flu vaccine

  • TDaP booster, given every 10 years to protect against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis

  • Shingles vaccine

  • PPSV23 and PCV13 vaccines to protect against the most common causes of bacterial pneumonia

  • Colonoscopy every 10 years, beginning at age 50

  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm screening in those ages 65 to 75 who have ever smoked

  • One-time hepatitis C blood test for those currently aged 50 to 70

  • Lung cancer screening for smokers.

Posted by: Dr.Health

Back to Top