8 Things Doctors Want You to Know About Aging

  • doctor talking to patient
    Senior Health, Aging and Medicare: What Doctors Say
    Have you heard the saying that 50 is the new 30? While it may not be literally true, that saying does convey the truth that there has never been a better time to be an older adult. Medical advances, better nutrition, and a higher standard of living mean that people today have the potential to live longer, healthier lives than their grandparents did. With a bit of luck and by making a variety of healthy choices in different areas of life, you can still be living life to its fullest into your 80s, 90s, or beyond. Here’s what three doctors who specialize in senior health want you to know about healthy aging, including the benefits of Medicare.



  • Woman talking with doctor
    1. “Serious diseases are not an automatic part of aging.”
    The reality is that you are more likely to develop serious health problems the older you get. For instance, advancing age is the most important risk factor for cancer overall, and half of all cancers in the United States are diagnosed in people aged 55 to 74, according to the National Cancer Institute. But understanding how age affects your individual risk is much more nuanced. “You don’t automatically develop diabetes, heart disease, or cancer just because you are old,” says Paola Susan, MD, a family medicine expert at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. “Even though these conditions are more common in older people, I have plenty of senior patients who don’t have any of these problems.”





  • Three senior black women exercising together
    2. “Committing to a healthy lifestyle will pay off.”
    No matter what stage of life you are in, making healthy lifestyle choices can have a huge positive impact on your overall health and well-being. It’s never too late to quit smoking, improve your diet, and get more exercise, because your body can reap the benefits at any age. But cleaning up your lifestyle earlier in life has undeniable benefits. “My patients who do the best over time are the ones who figure out their commitment to a healthy lifestyle early on and then sustain it,” says Lynsey Brandt, MD, PharmD, Associate Medical Director of the Geriatrics Consult Program at Christiana Care’s Wilmington Hospital in Wilmington, Del.





  • senior woman looking at bone xray with doctor
    3. “Get screened for serious diseases as appropriate.”
    One important factor in people living longer today is that modern medicine can screen for a variety of common diseases that typically do not create symptoms until the disease has caused widespread damage. “We can now identify conditions promptly so they can be treated earlier,” Dr. Susan says. “We’ve got effective screening programs like colonoscopy for colon cancer, mammography for breast cancer, and Pap smears for cervical cancer. Even something as simple as blood pressure monitoring and screening bloodwork for diabetes makes a huge difference.” Even better: Medicare Part B pays for a variety of preventive screenings. Medicare also covers a yearly wellness visit and screening and/or counseling for obesity, smoking cessation, depression, and alcohol misuse.





  • confused elderly man
    4. “Normal aging includes some memory changes.”
    Temporarily misplacing important items like your phone or keys or forgetting a last-minute item from the grocery store can be a common part of getting older. When this happens, you may worry that these memory glitches indicate the onset of a dementia like Alzheimer’s disease. Fortunately, the cause is usually more benign. “Most of the time, the problem is not a lack of memory but a lack of attention,” says Dr. Susan. “What’s not normal is if you can’t remember your grandchildren’s names or you suddenly can’t find your house, or if a family member mentions that the patient often forgets to turn off the stove.” When in doubt, talk with your doctor about what’s normal. As long as the memory changes don’t affect your daily life, there’s probably no cause for concern.





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    5. “Depression is not a normal part of aging.”
    No one feels happy and excited all the time, of course, no matter how young or old they are. But sadness that persists warrants a candid conversation with your doctor. “In my experience, depression among senior adults is greatly underdiagnosed and undertreated,” says Ashkan Javaheri, MD, head of Geriatrics at Mercy Medical Group in Sacramento, Calif. “They may be less likely than younger patients to bring it up, but it’s important to know that depression is never a part of the normal aging process.” He makes it a point to discuss mental health and depression with his patients even if they don’t raise the issue first.





  • Mature woman sitting on bed reading information on pill bottle
    6. “Re-evaluate your medications as you age.”
    The older you get, the more likely you are to take at least one daily medication. Many older people take more than five medications, a situation known as polypharmacy, but more is not always better. “The more medications you take, the more likely you are to have drug interactions, develop balance problems, and not always take all your medications correctly,” says Dr. Brandt, who worked as a pharmacist before becoming a physician. “If you develop a new symptom, always ask your doctor if it could be a side effect from an existing medication. Sometimes adding a medication for that ‘symptom’ can create more problems.”





  • Man with walker
    7. “The right move can improve quality of life.”
    If you’re like most people, home sweet home is where you want to be, no matter what. Fortunately, homebuilders have become more sensitive to including features that make homes safer for everyone. Things like wider doorways and grab bars in bathrooms can make it easier to age in place. But there may come a time when a move to a more supported living environment like an assisted living community makes sense. “Moving may actually improve your quality of life thanks to improved social interactions and freedom from cooking and cleaning at your new home,” says Dr. Javaheri. “This can be a positive thing when people keep an open mind.”





  • senior woman sitting at table thinking and writing
    8. “Advance directives become even more important as we age.”
    No matter how young or healthy you are, every adult should have advance medical directives in place. These are legal documents that spell out the type and amount of care you want in a medical emergency if you are not able to make your wishes known. Two main types of advance directives are a living will and a power of attorney for healthcare. The power of attorney lets you choose a trusted family member or friend to make medical decisions for you. A living will allows you to accept or refuse specific treatments and end-of-life care. “As a patient, you can ask your doctor to talk to you about advance directives and Medicare Part B will cover that as part of your yearly visit,” says Dr. Javaheri. “You don’t have to wait for your doctor to bring it up.”





8 Things Doctors Want You to Know About Aging
Contributors
  • Lynsey Brandt, MD, PharmD

    Associate Medical Director, Geriatrics Consult Program at Christiana Care’s Wilmington Hospital in Wilmington, Del.

  • Ashkan Javaheri, MD
    Head of Geriatrics, Mercy Medical Group in Sacramento, Calif.
  • Paola Susan, MD
    Family Medicine, Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Ill.

About The Author

  1. Age and Cancer Risk. National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/age
  2. What Part B Covers. Medicare.gov. https://www.medicare.gov/what-medicare-covers/part-b/what-medicare-part-b-covers.html
  3. Your Medicare Coverage. Medicare.gov. https://www.medicare.gov/coverage/preventive-and-screening-services.html
  4. Advance Directives. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/advancedirectives.html
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 5
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.