As a family medicine physician, there are some conversations with my patients that I can deliver in my sleep with my hands tied behind my back, so to speak.

Discussions regarding safe sex, using condoms, and the benefits of birth control are extremely important to me, and I have delivered these messages daily for the past 22 years. However, I now realize that I need to do a better job discussing the benefits of advanced care planning, living wills, hospice, and palliative care.

The process of aging will occur for everyone regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sex, or any other category for which you identify. This process will bring with it a variety of conditions and situations that may require us to make some lifestyle changes. This is the main reason that advanced care planning is necessary.

Unfortunately, there are no crystal balls in life. As a physician, I cannot predict how each individual patient will fare as they start to experience certain health challenges. However, through research and evidence-based studies, I can hypothesize about some conditions but cannot say for certain that the path ahead for one patient will be the same for others. Therefore, using data to assist patients along the aging lifecycle is important to their health and quality of life.

The human body is like an automobile in some ways but unlike it in others. For example, just like a car, the human body needs a tune-up (yearly exam) every so often. For Medicare recipients, this yearly exam, also known as an annual Medicare wellness visit, is an excellent time for the provider to discuss advanced care planning.

Advanced care planning affords the provider and the patient time to discuss what is most important to the patient in their days ahead.

Questions commonly asked during this time:

1.     How important is it to you that you remain independent?

2.     How important is it to you to maintain your ability to drive?

3.     If you are no longer able to care for yourself, do you have a plan in place for support?

In addition to planning for the future, it is also important to assess an individual’s current living situation. That beautiful two-story home with the master bedroom featuring a jacuzzi tub was a great idea when you were 30. However, a house like that for an eighty-year-old with severe arthritis in the knees and limited mobility would be a major health hazard and could increase the likelihood of a fall.

Furthermore, for Americans over the age of 65, the poverty rate is on the rise. Per the U.S. Census Bureau data, the percentage of older people in the U.S below the poverty level increased from 8.9% in 2020 to 10.3% in 2021. 6 million older adults are in this category. Less money means less access to resources for food, rent, and medications. It is for that reason that providers query seniors about their diets and monitor their weights.

Though we may not have specifics about our future health concerns, that lack of knowledge does not free us from the inevitable process of aging. Regular conversations with your provider can help make the process less intimidating. Websites such as aarp.org and medicare.gov are great resources for more information.

Dr. Denise Hooks-Anderson

Dr. Denise Hooks-Anderson

Denise Hooks-Anderson, MD, FAAFP, can be reached at yourhealthmatters@stlamerican.com

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