By Ernst Lamothe Jr.
Living a long life is not the sole goal in life. What’s the purpose of beating back Father Time if you don’t have your health? The good news is that Americans are living longer lives. The bad news is that they are not actually living better lives.
“Life cannot simply be about how long we live but it has to be about how well we live,” said physician Bruce Troen, professor of medicine and chief of the division of geriatrics and palliative medicine at the University of Buffalo and UBMD Internal Medicine.
Troen, who specializes in geriatrics, talks about the six things you need to know as you get older.
1. Two important vitamins
While research has been mixed on advantages of taking certain vitamins and supplements, it seems that two vitamins are universally accepted as essential in a person’s life. The first is vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in very few foods, added to others, and available as a dietary supplement. It increases the absorption of calcium, magnesium, zinc and iron into the body.
“You are going to get most of the vitamins you need through your food if you eat a balanced diet, but many people are vitamin D-deficient,” said Troen. “Vitamin D is not just for your bones but it is supportive for your autoimmune system and your heart.”
The second vitamin is B12, which is important for many aspects of health, including the production of red blood cells. Healthy numbers of red blood cells are critical for delivering oxygen and nutrients to the body’s cells and tissues.
“Long term deficiency in B12 can lead to neurological difficulties and anemia,” added Troen.
2. Improving your nutrition
Nutrition is a moving target. It seems like every week we are finding out something new that was once considered detrimental to us that is no longer — or that what was once considered bad is, actually, good. Fats and saturated fats used to be the No. 1 target of the medical community. Now they have a new focus.
“The real problem is excessive carbohydrates and sugars,” said Troen. “If we want to maintain a good weight, we should try to stay away from too many processed foods that have a large amount of both. I’m not advocating that you stay away from foods that have natural sweetness, but added sugar is one of the largest contributors to obesity, which has plagued our country for decades.”
Troen recommends simply eating sensibly and avoiding knee-jerk extreme diets.
3. Watch multiple medications
Even though medication can help seniors, the issue is they often must take multiple medications everyday. But while one medication may help you lower your blood pressure, the other may bring up some other negative issues.
“People don’t understand that as you get older, your response to medication can also change,” said Troen. “That is why recommending something like Benadryl, which helps with allergies, might be a problem because it can cause confusion and slow reaction time for seniors.”
4. The importance of a geriatric physician
There are more Americans older than 65 than at anytime in history. A geriatric doctor, also known as a geriatrician, is a professional who studies the aging process. Geriatricians also study how to prevent diseases. One of the biggest issues for a geriatrician is to prevent and treat dementia. Older people who have an increase in health problems should seek help from a geriatrician.
“I believe that seniors should be treated by a geriatrician or a geriatric nurse practitioner because they are especially aware of the kinds of medication that seniors take and their side effects,” said Troen. “Certain medications can be very powerful and you can lose sight of that when you are not looking at the whole picture. If you don’t have someone looking at the bigger picture than you can’t truly treat the whole patient.”
5. Regular exercise
Exercising at any age is essential to good health. It becomes even more paramount as you get older because you are fighting the uphill battle of aging. Troen recommends regular exercise even as simple as taking regular walks.
“Moderate exercise really is the key to moving forward in life,” said Troen. “It all has to make sense. We are not encouraging seniors to run marathons, but it’s common knowledge in the medical community that exercise and proper body regime can help with a lot of medical conditions.”
6. Improving your memory
We know there is often increasing cognitive issues as we get older. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia, which is a common form of dementia caused by an impaired supply of blood to the brain that may be caused by a series of small strokes.
Troen also recommends challenging the brain with learning a new language or taking an online class.
“Your brain is a muscle and you have to exercise it vigorously in ways that truly challenges it,” he said.