One of Stony Brook’s specialists in geriatric medicine, Suzanne D. Fields, MD, answers questions on what individuals can do to age more healthfully.
What can people do to age more healthfully?
There are three general categories that you can control: diet, exercise, and boosting the immune system. These three things are critical in disease prevention. A healthful diet and regular exercise—even if it is as simple as a daily walk—are key to maintaining a healthy weight. As you age, being overweight can lead to a number of other impairments, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and back pain—to name just a few. In addition, there are certain vitamins that people need more of when they get older, including calcium and vitamin D. Some studies have shown that vitamin D, in particular, helps strengthen bones and prevent falls, which in turn can prevent debilitating fractures. Ask your doctor to check your vitamin D levels. If they are low, you can boost them with supplements and exposure to sunlight.
As for your immune functioning, there are certain vaccines that can help protect you from disease, or at least diminish the severity of symptoms if you do get sick. Certainly get a flu shot every year. We recommend a pneumonia vaccine for everyone over age 65. Also, there is a new vaccine available that protects against zoster (commonly known as “shingles”), and we recommend that for people over age 60.
When people turn 65, Medicare will cover a “Welcome to Medicare” Wellness Visit in which patients can ask their physician about specific measures to maintain a healthful lifestyle and discuss the role of various screening tests that can detect problems early on, when they can be treated. Examples include cancer screens, bone mineral density tests for osteoporosis, visual and hearing tests, and abdominal sonograms to check for abdominal aneurysms in men.
How can people keep their minds nimble and their brains in shape?
Perhaps the best way is to stay engaged with family and community. Get socially involved. Volunteer. Keep up with current events. Remain passionate and committed to life. It also helps to engage in mental exercises like playing bridge, doing crossword puzzles, reading and writing, learning a new language—anything that challenges your brain with new information.
What distinguishes Stony Brook’s approach to geriatric medicine?
We do a lot of geriatric education here at Stony Brook, and because we train the next generation of health care professionals, we stay abreast of best practices, and have held conferences on such key issues as long-term care, health literacy, and cultural difference and nuances of care. For more information on Stony Brook’s Long Island Geriatric Education Center, go to www.hsc.stonybrook.edu/centers/ligec or call (631) 444-8279.
Our outpatient geriatric program provides comprehensive evaluation of patients living with common geriatric conditions, including memory loss, urinary incontinence, gait and balance disorders, dizziness, and weight loss. A team of geriatric experts can help develop a plan of care for frail elders with the aim of keeping patients as functional and independent for as long as possible.
Stony Brook hosts the Alzheimer’s Disease Assistance Center of Long Island, a clinical and academic program underwritten by a grant from the New York State Department of Health and run by Stony Brook’s Department of Psychiatry, which treats Alzheimer’s comprehensively and compassionately.
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All health and health-related information contained in this article is intended to be general and/or educational in nature and should not be used as a substitute for a visit with a healthcare professional for help, diagnosis, guidance, and treatment. The information is intended to offer only general information for individuals to discuss with their healthcare provider. It is not intended to constitute a medical diagnosis or treatment or endorsement of any particular test, treatment, procedure, service, etc. Reliance on information provided is at the user's risk. Your healthcare provider should be consulted regarding matters concerning the medical condition, treatment, and needs of you and your family. Stony Brook University/SUNY is an affirmative action, equal opportunity educator and employer.