Seven Things You Shouldn't Hide From Your Doctor

Using observation and testing, your doctor can learn specific things about your health, such as your weight, the amount of cholesterol in your blood, how well your heart is beating, and your blood pressure. But other information your doctor needs can come only from you.

Senior man with his doctor, looking hesitant

Do senior patients tell the truth to their healthcare providers? University of Michigan researchers recently interviewed thousands of patients, 2,500 of them older adults, and found that between 60% and 80% admitted fibbing to their doctor.

Why would patients conceal the truth from a professional who could help them? "When respondents explained why they weren't transparent, most said that they wanted to avoid being judged, and didn’t want to be lectured about how bad certain behaviors were," reported the research team. "More than half were simply too embarrassed to tell the truth. They're worried about being pigeonholed as someone who doesn’t make good decisions."

Yes, most of us want our doctors to think highly of us. But sugarcoating our symptoms and lifestyle during appointments might mean our doctor won't have the best information to diagnose and treat our health conditions and give us the best medical advice. Here are seven things to be honest about during your next wellness exam:

1. Symptoms that worry you. You've noticed a lump, or a rash, or a nagging pain somewhere. Yet maybe you're one of those patients who, when they're sitting on the table in a gown for their annual physical, end up not mentioning it. It's human nature to want to sweep certain things under the rug and hope they go away. But your doctor went to medical school and is far more qualified than you (and the internet) to determine which symptoms are harmless and which should be investigated. Even if your problem seems embarrassing (for example, a change in bowel habits, a sexual problem or incontinence), bring it up anyway. Your doctor has seen it all.

2. All the medications you take — including supplements. To help avoid harmful side effects, it's important for your doctor to know all the prescription and nonprescription drugs you take. Some of our symptoms actually might be side effects of a medication. If we forget to take our medications, or we skip them due to cost, our doctor should know. And be sure to report the supplements you take. Even if you feel a bit sheepish drinking those health shakes your cousin sells, tell the doctor anyway. Some supplements can interfere with how our bodies process other medications.

3. How much exercise you get. Most likely your doctor will ask you about your level of physical activity. There's a temptation to exaggerate. We don't want our doctor to know if we are pretty much a couch potato! But remember, your doctor can give you suggestions about activities that are right for your health condition, including some things you might not even have thought about — a "prescription for exercise," they call it. Your doctor isn't going to come to your house and force you to get to the gym — that's up to you.

4. Your alcohol use. People might exaggerate the amount of exercise they get, but when it comes to alcohol consumption, they go the other direction! "Ask how much patients drink, then double that," some providers advise. In January 2019, JAMA called alcohol use "the elephant in the examination room," noting that many cases of unhealthy drinking fly under the radar until a patient suffers liver failure, a serious injury or other alcohol-related health event. Your doctor needs to know. It will affect medication and treatment choices, and your doctor can make a recommendation if you need help cutting back.

5. Changes in your memory. This is another area where there's a strong impulse to be in denial. We might chalk up lapses in memory or thinking problems to "just part of growing older" — which might be true! Memory problems could be the result of medications or a treatable illness. We can't know unless we describe what we’re experiencing to our doctor. Even if we are diagnosed with Alzheimer's or a related condition, the earlier we know, the better.

6. If you've been falling. Falls are a top cause of disability and even death among older adults. But many seniors don't want to admit that they've fallen. They fear they'll be told to "take it easy" or that their doctor might view them as weak or careless. In fact, sharing information about your fall history can help your doctor evaluate the causes of your falls, then recommend a balance class, medication review, hearing and vision exam, and other steps you can take to lower the risk.

7. Feelings of depression and anxiety. Today, doctors are likely to ask patients questions about whether they are experiencing feelings of sadness and worry. Answer honestly. Depression and anxiety are common among older adults and both are treatable. Emotional distress is just as debilitating as physical illness, and seeking help is nothing of which to be ashamed.

Your doctor can't read your mind, and there are so many things that might go amiss in our bodies — most of which are better diagnosed early. Jot down things that concern you and ask about them during your next checkup. Remember that your doctor is working for you and will respect your honesty. Of course, if you continue to feel uncomfortable talking to your doctor, it might be time to shop around for a provider who is a better fit.

Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned providers of in home care services.