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Preventing illness, maintaining our health as we age, part 3

October 16, 2008
Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Over the last few weeks we have looked at some of the issues involved in preventing illness and maintaining our health as we age; today we are going to take a look at two reasons for optimism as well as two reasons for concern regarding our health as we age. The first of our "good news" duo is that the "boomers" are healthier than their parents; some of the reasons for this increase in the overall health of senior citizens are earlier diagnosis and treatment of chronic diseases, and behavioral changes in diet and exercise. The second bit of "good news" is that both science and technology are progressing and contributing to a better understanding of disease (age related and otherwise) and the execution of methods to both diagnose and treat them.

So now that we have heard some "good news," what's the deal with the "bad news?" One concern of paramount importance is that our country is poorly prepared from a health-professional manpower standpoint to truly manage the complexity of aging. According to statistics I found in The Consumer's Guide To Long-Term Health Care/ELDERCARE in New York, "the average 75-year old today has multiple chronic diseases and is on several medicines, yet fewer than one percent of all physicians, nurses, pharmacists and physical therapists have had advanced geriatric training." How serious is this? Let's take just one case in point, the under-diagnosis of depression in the elderly, an easy miss if you have not been thoroughly trained to look for it. Another consideration is that many health care professionals may have been raised in the age of slowing down is just a natural part of getting old.

The actuality of the situation is that depression is often misdiagnosed as cognitive impairment in spite of the fact that there are many valid reasons to be depressed. Examples of depression indicators, especially in the elderly, are retirement, widowhood, bereavement and isolation (both physical and emotional). An example of depression going undiagnosed is the correlation between hearing loss and depression. Hearing loss affects quality of life and interpersonal relationships, and is a significant safety issue. A second concern the aging face is treatment strategies, especially when treating cognitive impairments. All of the statistical information I have read over the past few years indicates that there are some four million American senior citizens currently suffering from Alzheimer's disease or another form of dementia. This number is predicted to reach 14 million by 2040. The upside of this situation is that the scientific/research focus on neurodegenerative diseases in both public and private sectors is enormous, and reflects both the seriousness of the problem and the potential positive impact (both physical and fiscal) that would accompany a solution.

If you have any questions or comments regarding today's column, please do not hesitate to call me at North Country Home Services, 483-4502, or e-mail me at

Next Time: Preventing illness, maintaining our health as we age, Part 4Targeting major activity limitations as we age.



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