Healthy aging – getting quality in quantity

  • Monday, July 14, 2008

What’s that old saying –there are two things in life that are certain – death and taxes? Well, they may say there are two, but certainly a third should be added to the list. Because no matter how hard we try, and no matter how many dollars we may be willing to pay to avoid it –it’s inevitable that we will all age. After all, more than 36 million living Americans have been doing it for more than 65 years, and with the aging of the baby boomer, twice as many people will reach senior status within the next 25 years. The good news is the aging process doesn’t have to be as gloomy as paying taxes. In fact, there are many advantages to aging, and Trident Senior Health Center’s geriatric physician, Dr. Mark Meiler, who also sees patients at Trident Medical and Summerville Medical Centers, makes it his priority to provide his patients every opportunity to make the most of their senior years. “As a geriatrician, my job is not only to prolong life, but to prolong a quality life, where independence is enjoyed as long as possible. There are medical advances, as well as personal choices, that can be made to delay and compact all serious illnesses into the final stage of life.” According to Dr. Meiler, a physician since 1972 who began practicing geriatrics in the late 80’s, “there are five “I’s” that indicate the most bothersome effects of aging: Immobility; Incompetence; Incontinence; Inability to maintain homeostasis – or adapt; and loss of Independence. Dr. Meiler’s goal is to promote and facilitate the four “A’s” that hold the keys to healthy aging. They include being: active; adaptable; accountable for one’s own health and an active consumer. “With the fastest growing age group of Americans being 85 and older, it is important that people get involved in their own health and begin seeing a physician early, for preventative measures,” explains Dr. Meiler. “Activity – both physical and mental—is also imperative. Immobility arises from the lack of using muscles – whether they are in the legs or the brain. The old saying ‘what you don’t use, you lose,’ is absolutely true, which is why I encourage seniors to take regular walks and get involved in swimming and fitness programs, like those offered through Trident Health Stystem’s H2U program.” Reading the paper daily, doing crossword puzzles and playing bridge with friends are all activities Dr. Meiler recommends for keeping the brain sharp, and as a special note to the younger generations, Dr. Meiler points out that studies indicate those with a higher level of education, experience less problems with dementia later in life – a good reason to make education a priority. Dr. Meiler also advises that social activities are very important for extended wellbeing. “Social interaction fosters good health.” He points out that when people eat by themselves, they don’t eat as much or as nutritiously and those who do not experience regular sensory stimulation, are more likely to become isolated -- a factor associated with declining health. “In an effort to promote healthy aging, Trident Health System’s H2U program offers both good nutritional information and a great social atmosphere with their regularly held social activities specifically geared for people 50 and older.” With four diseases topping the list of healthcare concerns for aging adults, Dr. Meiler offers some preventative tips. “With cardiovascular disease as the leading cause of death and the most expensive diagnosis of all illnesses in the United States – eating up approximately one third of all Medicare funds – I urge patients to have regular blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes screenings.” Cancer is the second leading threat. “For women, lung, breast and colon cancer are the top three, and although more women are diagnosed with breast cancer, more will die from lung cancer. For men, lung, colon and prostrate cancer top the list, which is why I discourage smoking and encourage regular breast, colon and prostate cancer screenings.” Infectious disease is another concern for the elderly. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 36,000 people 65 or older die each year of influenza and invasive pnemoccocal disease. “An annual flu shot and at least one pneumonia vaccination are very important after age 65,” explains Dr. Meiler. The fourth concern for the elderly is dementia. “Many would be shocked to know that 50 percent of people 85 and older have some stage of Alzheimer’s disease,” states Dr. Meiler. “And 20 percent of those 75 and older are affected by it.” The good news is, although aging may be inevitable, with modern medicine and continuous preventative measures, poor health no longer needs to be an inevitable associated with aging. In fact, approximately 60,000 United States citizens are loving life at more than 100 years of age–sharing their wealth of experiences and knowledge with those who are younger and, as some may say, less enviable. For more information or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Meiler, call Trident Senior Health Center at (843) 797-0416.

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