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Questions are the answer

It is my absolutely favorite holiday. I like every aspect of it — the before Thanksgiving list-making, the opportunity to shop in places of the grocery store I usually do not visit, and the sense of well-being that abounds. No one has to offer up any gifts, other than a ready appetite.

I like the moment when I find the absolutely perfect 22-pound turkey. I look forward to the dialogue about whether it will fit in the roasting pan. You would think by this time we would know what fits — but we just never seem to be sure. I enjoy purchasing a variety of aromatic spices I would not otherwise consider, and buying those not-very-good-for-you fried onions for the green bean casserole.

At Thanksgiving, family and friends convene over delicious food and tell their stories. This year — may I suggest you use the moment for more than just eating and schmoozing. Share some information and talk about ideas that might be valuable all year round. Seize the moment.

I encourage you and your T-Day entourage to go the Web site that offers my newly created five-module online course, Mastery of Aging Well (http://outreach.oregonstate.edu/aging-well). Ignore the part in the 'Food as Medicine' module that talks about portion control — it's Thanksgiving, after all.

But spend a little extra time on the module about the importance of physical activity — by then you may have eaten more than your share of a 22-pound turkey.

Here is another idea.

Have you ever seen the Ask-Me-3 Web site (www.npsf.org/askme3/)? You also might want to take a look at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality "Questions Are the Answer" Web site (www.ahrq.gov/questionsaretheanswer).

Questions are the answer.

When our family gets together for Thanksgiving dinner, it goes something like this:

"How are you doing?" I say.

The answer might be, "Not too good — a lot of sciatica pain."

"Have you seen a doctor?" I offer in response.

If the answer is "no," I encourage a visit — and offer ideas about how to use the visit maximally (that's where information from the above Web sites comes in).

Or maybe the answer is, "I went to my doc, and it didn't make a whit of difference" or "I don't ever feel like I come away from those medical appointments with much help."

Again I say, "Questions are the answers."

It does not seem like we should need to be reminded about this, but we do. Simple questions make a huge difference. Questions like, "What is this test for?" or "Why do I need this surgery?" Build your list of questions in advance of the medical appointment. The very act of doing that can be unexpectedly empowering.

The AHRQ Web site says it like this: "Ask questions if you have doubts or concerns about medical procedures. Choose a doctor you feel comfortable talking to."

And this might be the most important reminder: "Take a relative or friend with you to help you ask questions and understand the answers."

Which brings us back to Thanksgiving — where you have a table full of choices.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. E-mail her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 776-7371, Ext. 210.