Maintaining your health as you age


Medical visits to health care professionals (HCP) increase as we get older. Each decade of life has different medical needs. People have concerns and needs that are often not addressed during short medical appointments.

The University of Rochester Medical Center identified a group of older adults and asked them to prioritize the major questions they have about maintaining good health. A long list of issues and questions were identified by the lay groups.

This article will highlight the most frequent issues identified in this study, and offer ways the person can ask for information from their HCP.

Top issues identified by older adults:

The effects of physical activity have been shown to delay or prevent a number of complications with the heart and lungs. Most people however are unsure of how to design a program for themselves.

Nutrition was a concern. Eating habits play a major role in every one’s physical status. We all love eat, but we need to avoid foods that do not provide needed nutrients and are too high in fats, sugars and salt.

Obesity is a major health-risk factor in western countries, and can lead to premature death. Diabetes, heart and vascular issues, strokes, sleep apnea and gallbladder disease are all related to being excessively overweight.

Use of tobacco products has been linked to heart attacks, and pulmonary and vascular disease. Stopping smoking is a must for a senior.

Use of illegal and self-administered over-the-counter drugs is often not discussed with the HCP. Taking substances that may have serious side-effects can endanger the older adult.

HIV/AIDS is often not associated with older adults but this condition can devastate an older adult with an altered immune status and presence of other chronic conditions. Older adults remain sexually active and are also unlikely to use condoms.

Mental health issues such as depression and the presence of some degree of dementia is a frequent concern voiced by older adults. An individual who begins to show a decline in daily functioning or a change in personality needs to be evaluated by a HCP.

Additionally, suicide is not uncommon in older adults.

Injury and violence are important issues. The effects of falling are a leading cause of hospitalization and possibly death. The home should be modified to minimize the risk of falling. Easy-to-use security lock(s) should be installed to keep out intruders. Vulnerable adults should ask people to be with them when walking outside in a public area, especially at night.

Maintaining your immunization status is important to preventing potentially serious infections, especially pneumonia, influenza and COVID.

Access to care is another issue that directly affects all of us, but especially an older adult. If people live close to their family doctors or clinics, this access prevents many health issues. Older adults who have gait problems, have limited transportation or who live a great distance from a health care facility are at high risk for complications from delayed care.

Questions you can ask your HCP about maintaining your health status:

Physical Activity: What are my limitations in exercising? What types of exercise programs are safe and effective for me? How far should I walk to have a positive health benefit?

Nutrition: What kinds of food should I avoid? Would it help if I kept a food diary? Where can I find a nutritionist to work with me to improve my diet?

Obesity: What is a BMI, and what is mine? In addition to changing diet and increasing exercise, what other things can I do to return myself to a healthy BMI?

Tobacco: If I use tobacco products, how can I stop? Is there medication available to cut back and eventually stop? Do treatments like acupuncture or hypnosis help?

Illegal drug and OTC use: You need to be honest with your HCP about the use of street drugs. Are you using nonprescription medications for pain control? Share with your HCP a list of all medications you use on a regular basis. Bring all of your meds (prescription and over-the-counter) with you to a visit.

HIV/AIDS: Let your doctor know if you are sexually active, either with the same partner or others. If you are at risk for contracting HIV infection, discuss with your HCP if you would be a candidate for taking PrEP for lowering your risk. Do you have a supply of condoms?

Mental health: If you are concerned about how you are feeling, you should see your HCP. A family member or friend may also have observed a change in you. There are screening tests that are available to separate depression from other conditions that affect your daily functioning.

Injury: Slips and falls can occur regardless of age. Let your HCP and family members know that you have fallen.

Immunizations: Discuss with your HCP whether you are up to date on all of your immunizations, especially pneumonia, influenza and COVID shots.

Access to care: The ability to get to the doctor or call emergency services is more important as we age. All counties or regions in our country have a department that can help you with transportation needs. Your HCP may have other resources for you to contact.