Health Info & Resources for Seniors
Today, more than 72,000 Americans have reached the age of 100 and that exclusive club is growing. Between 2000 and 2016, the percentage of centenarians increased by more than 43 percent. Whether you aspire to reach 100, or just want to feel your best, there are several things you can do to stay healthy physically as you grow older.
“The health status of older adults is determined by a combination of genetics and the effects of lifestyle choices,” says Alaa-Eldin A Mira, MD, Chair of Geriatric Medicine, St. Luke’s University Hospital – Bethlehem. “As we age, we often have chronic conditions like arthritis, heart and vascular disease, stroke or cancer. And many people are more likely to develop these diseases because they have a genetic predisposition to them, meaning, ‘It runs in the family.’ “Fortunately, however, through diet, exercise, not smoking, and not drinking alcohol – or only in moderation, you can reduce your risk of developing these illnesses,” he says. Furthermore, if you already have them, maintaining a healthy lifestyle will help you to slow the progression of the disease and manage your symptoms.
Carrie Fleckenstein, Senior Network Director, Geriatric Institute of St. Luke’s University Health Network, says that in addition to your physician, hospitals and health systems also play a role in helping you to stay as healthy as possible. She encourages older adults to select physicians affiliated with senior-friendly hospitals.
“Does the hospital have programs designed to meet the special needs of older adults?” she asks. “For example, St. Luke’s offers a senior surgical program that provides a nurse navigator to guide the patient through all the testing needed before the procedure and helps to arrange for care afterwards. We have a Geriatric Fellowship program to train physicians in the care of seniors. In addition, we work with skilled nursing facilities in the area to provide the support needed for patients to transition safely home. Our goal is to help our patients stay as healthy and independent as possible.”
For optimal health as you age, Dr. Mira suggests the following:
Maintain your weight and eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. Carrying excess weight can take a toll on your health – from added strain on your joints to an increasing your risk of heart disease. If you have trouble losing weight, strive to maintain your weight. Perhaps just as important as the number on the scale, is type of food you put in your mouth. Make sure that your diet includes lots of fruits and vegetables. If you eat meat, keep it lean and mix in plenty of fish and seafood.
Keep moving. You don’t have to run a marathon or participate in strenuous workouts to get the health benefits of exercise. If you have been inactive or have a health condition, check with your doctor and start slow. Regardless of your fitness level, be careful to avoid injury and build slowly. Longer sessions of moderately intense activities can have great results. Include exercises that build endurance like walking, biking or swimming that help your cardiovascular system work more effectively, reducing your risk of heart disease and diabetes. Mix in strength training, such as weight lifting to increase bone density and add muscle. This reduces your risk of fractures and injuries, as well as increases your metabolism.
Get adequate sleep. During sleep, your body refreshes your immune system, which helps to prevent disease. Also, adequate sleep improves your memory and concentration. Strive for seven to nine hours per night.
Doctors Experienced in Caring for Older Adults Can Help You Optimize Your Health
Although you are responsible for your health, a physician knowledgeable in geriatric medicine can help you stay well. “Fortunately, in our area there are many excellent family physicians experienced in caring for older adults, says geriatrician Alaa-Eldin A. Mira, MD, Chair of Geriatric Medicine, St. Luke’s University Hospital – Bethlehem. “They understand that illnesses and injuries often affect seniors differently than their younger peers and are adept at diagnosing and treating older adults.”
Sometimes, however, an older adult may experience a significant decline that is difficult to understand. In these situations, Dr. Mira suggests the individual or family care provider talk with their doctor about the appropriateness of a geriatric assessment.
For example, the St. Luke’s Senior Assessment Service conducts a thorough evaluation to assess the individual’s physical, mental and emotional health. The goal is to help the individual obtain their highest level of mental, emotional, social and physical health. Although all assessment services differ, a comprehensive evaluation should include:
A physical examination including walking and balance assessment
Psychological testing including screenings for depression and memory loss
Diagnostic Testing, which may include laboratory studies, MRI and X-ray
An inventory and analysis of the individual’s medications, both prescribed and over-the-counter, as well as any herbal supplements
An interview with family members, especially caregivers, to gather information, answer questions and hear concerns
“Sometimes the problem is easily correctable,” says Anne Grogan, St. Luke’s Network Director for Senior Care. “For example, a common urinary track infection can cause confusion in an elderly person. By treating the infection with antibiotics, the confusion clears.” Usually, however, it is more complicated, and often depression, malnutrition and disease contribute to the problem. The assessment can determine the role each of these plays and suggest how to address each one.
St. Luke’s Senior Assessment Service is available in Bethlehem and Phillipsburg, NJ. For more information, call the Bethlehem office at 484-526-7035 or the Phillipsburg office at 908-847-6722.