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Tufts E-News --Doctor's Orders: Seniors Need To Be Seen Regularly

Tufts E-News --Doctor's Orders: Seniors Need To Be Seen RegularlyTufts Medical School professor Richard Dupee says seniors need to see their doctors regularly to prevent health problems from cropping up unexpectedly down the road.

Boston [09.28.05] Tufts School of Medicine professor Dr. Richard Dupee has some expert advice for older adults: see your physician regularly, even when you are feeling fine. He urges seniors to schedule well visits, so doctors can keep a close eye on their health.

“They’re my best patients,” Dupee, the chief of geriatrics at Tufts-New England Medical Center, said recently on NBC’s Today Show. “But the patients turning 65 now are right on the cusp of the baby boomers, so it’s a little bit of a different attitude.”

Dupee explained on the program that some seniors today aren’t making the most of a very important benefit of Medicare coverage: a one-time well visit.

“As patients turn 65, they…have been given the information that they can have this one-time visit [through Medicare], but I don’t think a lot of people are taking advantage of it, which is surprising because seniors really are very enthusiastic about health promotion…and disease prevention,” he said on the Today Show.

Seniors who do see their doctors for a check-up can expect a variety of standard questions from their physician. Dupee first asks his patients what types of medications they are taking.

“The average senior takes about seven medications, four prescription, three over-the-counter, so we always ask our patients to come in and bring a…brown bag full of all the medicines, including the over-the-counter medicines,” he stated on the program. “Very frequently, we find drug interactions between prescription drugs…and the over-the-counter medications. Very frequently, we’ll take the drugs away.”

According to Dupee, another typical discussion that takes place during a well visit revolves around the patient’s ability to function in everyday life.

“Function is…really critical…in terms of quality of life, and if you don’t have that ability—let’s say you’ve got a bad hip or a bad knee, arthritis—what happens as we get older, you can’t get into the car, you can’t get out those groceries, sometimes…it’s even painful to get up and get out of bed,” Dupee said. “So we always ask these questions, ‘How are you doing in the morning? Are you getting out there? Are you paying your bills?’”

During a well visit, Dupee also probes his patients about risk factors in their lives, ranging from whether or not they smoke or drink to potential hazards in their homes, like loose rugs, which could cause them to slip and fall.

Weight loss is another concern.

“In the older patients, weight loss we worry about more than anything else,” he explained to NBC. “If we see weight loss, we worry about an underlying severe illness or maybe just undernutrition for financial reasons.”

Dupee reviewed a range of other important screenings undertaken in a well visit, from eye and digestive health to cholesterol, blood pressure and osteoporosis checks. He said that examining senior patients’ mental health and status is also a primary focus of a routine visit.

“We always…we have a little short depression list, we ask these very quick questions, and [with] this screen we can pick up depression very frequently,” Dupee said. “[And] the mental status examination, which you can really do in less than a minute, will help us to…define those folks who are [in] the early stages of dementia. You don’t want to miss them, because they’ll get into trouble.”


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