Senior Health

3/17/2023 | By Donna Brody

Do you know an older person who never visits medical professionals? A senior’s refusal to see a doctor raises their medical risks significantly. Seniors Guide writer Donna Brody addresses the reasons and possible solutions.

A few years ago, I was deeply saddened at the death of a dear friend I hadn’t seen in quite a long time. We were still in touch through social media, though, and I enjoyed seeing posts about her children and grandchildren and appreciated her comments on the things I shared. What I learned at the funeral was that her cancer seemed to progress very quickly and painfully because, by the time she was diagnosed, there was no treatment that would help. She was 72 when she passed away. Unfortunately, I also learned that she was one of those people who had long avoided going to a doctor for any kind of preventive care.

I am always surprised when I hear friends, acquaintances, and family members claim they haven’t seen a doctor in years. Last year I visited four different doctors: my primary care, my cardiologist, my dermatologist, and my ophthalmologist. I follow the advice given to people my age – over 65 – and have regular check-ups to maintain my present health. I only need visit my primary care doctor, dermatologist, and eye doctor once per year. I visit the cardiologist twice a year for my AFib.

A personal perspective on AFib

The primary care visit includes a pre-appointment to give a blood sample. The doctor runs a complete panel of blood tests to check for abnormal readings. Nothing of concern has been detected in recent years. The dermatologist does a skin check to look for signs of melanoma (skin cancer). My eye professional assesses my vision and adjusts my contact lens prescription and checks for signs of cataracts or glaucoma. Finally, my cardiologist looks for changes in my heart function with an in-office EKG and blood pressure check and adjusts my medication if necessary.

None of these procedures is invasive or painful, and with Medicare and my Medicare supplement insurance, I rarely see any kind of bill. So, what explains a senior’s refusal to see a doctor? What keeps some people in my peer group from yearly doctor visits?

The research on this topic is as varied as the seniors themselves, but one study indicates that one in four older adults say they would rather go a summer without air conditioning than visit a doctor. Men are more likely to avoid scheduling a yearly appointment.

Five reasons for a senior’s refusal to see a doctor

Below are five common reasons for refusing medical care, as given by adults over 60 and by their adult children and caregivers who try to coax them into getting checkups or treatment.

1. Low perceived need

A senior’s refusal to see a doctor raises their medical risks significantly. Seniors Guide addresses the reasons and possible solutions. Image of older man at home looking at OTC pill bottles. Image by Zdoragel

The condition will “go away on its own,” some say. People of all ages, not just seniors, sometimes feel they are not “sick enough” to waste a doctor’s time on something that may just be causing minor pain or discomfort. Also, unfortunately, the internet is full of free medical advice and natural home remedies purported to cure anything from high blood pressure to upset stomachs.

2. Cost

Lack of a Medicare supplement insurance plan may be preventing some older adults from seeking regular medical care. According to KFF, an information organization on national health issues, “Nearly 1 in 5 or 17% of Medicare recipients have no supplemental coverage.”

A Medicare supplement plan usually pays for copayments charged by a medical practice for an office visit. Supplement plans also help pay for any drugs a doctor might prescribe, so those without a supplement may fear being told they need medication they can’t afford. Also, cost of transportation to the appointment could be a concern.

3. Negative and fearful expectations

Fear of bad news is a significant reason seniors give for not wanting to visit a physician. This may include a fear of painful testing, of getting a recommendation for surgery, or even a fear of needles. Some older patients may also be afraid and embarrassed that the doctor is going to comment negatively on their weight, alcohol consumption, or other lifestyle factors that could come up for discussion during the appointment.

4. Inconvenience factors

Having to fill out extensive forms and long wait times in a provider’s office was also listed as reason to avoid a doctor visit. Some people expressed reluctance to wait in a waiting room for fear of catching a disease, and others said the office hours were not convenient.

5. Communication issues

Older people may be concerned they will have trouble communicating with health professionals because of hearing issues or being unfamiliar with medical vocabulary, especially with a new specialist or provider. They may also express lack of confidence or trust in a doctor they have never met before.

Tips for addressing a senior’s refusal to see a doctor

  • These tips can help adult children, caregivers, or concerned friends alleviate some of these roadblocks
  • Accompanying their loved one to a doctor’s appointment
  • Discussing questions beforehand, enlisting help from other family members or trusted authority figures (siblings, clergy, long-time friends) to convince the person to make an appointment
  • Assisting with paperwork
  • Discussing supplemental insurance needs
  • Arranging telemedicine appointments
  • Make the doctor visit part of a special outing for you or loved one by adding in lunch, shopping, or a movie to finish out the day

If you or a loved one hesitates to visit your medical practitioner, remember that health outcomes are improved by early diagnosis.

Donna Brody

Donna Brody is a former community college English instructor who retired to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She enjoys freelance writing and has self published three romance novels. Besides writing and traveling with her husband, she keeps busy visiting her seven grandchildren.