The Pulse: Tying Up Year-End Loose Ends (For Your Health)

Dec 29, 2015

Instead of making New Year’s resolutions, I like to tie up loose ends before the first of January. What didn't I get to? How can I plan ahead to make it happen in the new year?

There's no simple set of instructions, or diagrams, to help with these decisions and plans. But tying up loose ends can make life a little simpler.
Credit Christophe Dang Ngoc Chan / Wikimedia Commons

Often, those loose ends involve my own health care. I thought I’d share a few things I’m ticking off my list in case you’re facing a similar situation. Of course, I’m not a doctor; you should consult yours about your own health. But if you’re inspired to get something taken care of, let me know! Maybe I should add it to my list, too.

Here we go:

Schedule a mammogram. I’m going to have this screening for breast cancer because my doctor recommends it for me. Wondering whether you should be screened? The guidelines seem to change a lot. Is it for women over 40? Over 50? The answer is always first, ask your doctor. Some women are at higher risk than others. But the professional consensus seems to be that if you’re concerned, get screened as early as age 40. If you’re not particularly worried, start at 45, 50, or when your doctor recommends. If you’d like to see who’s recommending what, here are the latest recommendations from key organizations:

Health care advance planning. I’m healthy, relatively young (emphasis on relatively), and not aware of any life-threatening diseases lurking on the horizon. But you never know. If I’m ever incapacitated, can’t make my own medical decisions – what have you – I don’t want to make it any more difficult on my family. Rather, I prefer to discuss what I’d like at the end of my life, or in life-threatening situations, before they happen. You can fill out different forms, or legal documents, ahead of time, like an Advance Directive or a Living Will. I recommend The Conversation Project’s “Starter Kit” or the American Bar Association’s “Consumer’s Tool Kit for Health Care Advance Planning.” Here are some links to help you get started, too:

  • Rhode Island’s Advance Directive. This document “protects your right to refuse medical treatment you do not want, or to request treatment you do want, in the event you lose the ability to make decisions yourself.
  • Rhode Island’s Living Will. This document is a bit simpler (the Advance Directive form contains a living will, plus a few other components), and simply allows you to let health care professionals know whether you want doctors to “…withhold or withdraw procedures that merely prolong the dying process and are not necessary to my comfort, or to alleviate pain.” 
  • The Conversation Project’s “Conversation Starter Kit” is designed to help you start thinking about these decisions, and maybe discuss them with family.

Schedule a physical and dental appointment for 2016 – for everyone! I’ve scheduled a physical and a dental checkup for myself in 2016. But it just so happens that I schedule most of these appointments for everyone in my family. Son? Check. Daughter? Check. Husband? I need to look into that…

Exercise plan. Got one? Haven’t started exercising but plan to? Lots of people make New Year’s resolutions to start exercising, or lose weight. But the science shows resolutions alone don’t keep you on the trail or treadmill. Read this Wall Street Journal article about when those resolutions start to peter out, and how to make them stick. As for myself? I have a loose routine already, which is running 2 - 4 miles three times a week. But it's "loose" because life happens, weather happens. Winter often throws my routine in the garbage. So I have to figure out how to exercise indoors when it's too snowy or cold, at little to no extra cost (we're on a budget!). I find lots of resources online, podcasts, and streaming TV options to help.

Mental health plan. OK, I made this one up. But I’m serious! I like to plan ahead for just about everything, and when it comes to mental health, why not apply some of the same principles? Schedule a vacation, even if it’s just time off at home. Make plans to chat with far-flung friends, whether it’s FaceTime, Skype, or phone. Fight isolation by taking a class, volunteering, joining an advocacy group. Fight depression by getting screened by your doctor to make sure you’re treated if necessary. The Huffington Post put together a list of mental-health related New Year's resolutions you might consider - it's pretty good. ASt the outset of this post, I said I wasn't much for recommendations. Now, I've just pointed you toward a list of recommendations. Am I back-peddling? Not necessarily. I think it's OK to look ahead and decide what you want to do, or feel, or be more. But that's not enough for me. I need a plan to make it happen.

Year-end loose ends tied up? I think that's plenty to tackle for now. I'd love to hear about loose ends you're tying up in the comments section. And Happy New Year!