Quantcast
Skip to main content
Aging and Medical Science: A Mini Medical School

Aging and Medical Science: A Mini Medical School

Healthy Aging and Longevity Pearls from the UC Davis Faculty

• The older one is, the more likely that an acute coronary event (heart attack) will present with symptoms other than chest pain, such as shortness of breath or indigestion.

• More likely than not, the list of current medications on your medical record has inaccuracies.  Take an exact list of all medications/ doses to each medical appointment.

• The aging brain is increasingly dependent on the chemical acetylcholine, which allows brain cells in the memory areas to communicate with each other.  In fact, most currently available Alzheimer medications work solely by enhancing brain acetylcholine.  Many commonly used medications including some antihistamines, bladder relaxants, and antidepressants, reduce this brain chemical.  Ask your physician or pharmacist whether any of your medications have “anti-cholinergic” effects.  If so, discuss alternatives.

• Unlike young and middle-aged individuals, older adults with depression tend not to have a blue mood or melancholy.

• As we get older, depression more often presents with bodily complaints, irritability, and memory loss.

• About one in ten new cases of HIV disease are in persons over 50 years of age.

• The most common sexual complaint of a woman over age 65 is lack of a healthy partner.

• With normal aging, visual memory is preserved better than verbal memory.  You will remember a name you see (on a name tag or business card) much better than a name you hear.

• Eyebrows become bushier with normal aging.  Trimming your eyebrows can take years off your face in a matter of minutes.

director with student• Age-phobic new seniors are an attractive marketing target.  Be leery of television and print media health advertising when:
“Operators are standing by” 
The endorsing health professional has both “Dr.” before name and professional degree after name (“bookend credentials”)
“Your insurance pays or it’s free!” 

• If you are prone to swollen ankles by the end of the day, wearing a pair of compression hose can help you to sleep better.  How?  Leg edema (water in tissues) is brought back into circulation when the legs are elevated in bed.  This increases nighttime urine production, with an extra trip or two to the bathroom..

• We lose more taste buds for saltiness than for sweet and sour.  It becomes easy to underestimate a food’s saltiness, and more important to read the label for sodium content.

• Jane takes either a 300 mg calcium supplement or serving of dairy product with each meal (about 1000 mg calcium/day).  Her sister Janet takes three 500 mg calcium supplements all at once each morning (1500 mg calcium).  Jane is getting far more calcium.  Calcium is more difficult to absorb with age, and smaller, spread doses help.

• Expression that people over 50 need to know:  “disease mongering.”  This is an effort to persuade the consumer that occasional symptoms of heartburn/ insomnia/ constipation/ whatever could be a disease for which help is available.  Watch for compelling acronyms (“that heartburn might be GERD”) and serious-sounding nothings (“helps prostate issues”).

• Men who require long-term opioid pain medications (morphine, codeine, oxycodone, etc) can develop testosterone (male hormone) deficiency.  Doctors often fail to recognize this and misdiagnose as depression or chronic fatigue.

• In every laboratory animal so far studied, restriction of calorie intake increases longevity.

• A man who develops osteoporosis (brittle bones) is more likely than a woman to have a treatable secondary cause.

• Ears get plugged with wax?  An occasional drop of mineral oil into the ear canals keeps ear wax from drying and accumulating.  This is a much better (and less expensive) option than typical “ear wax dissolving drops”.

• A new loss of body hair over ankles and feet can be a sign of arterial (circulation) insufficiency. 

• Of all maladies likely to lead to long-term nursing home care, hip fracture is #1.  Only about half of persons with hip fracture return to their previous level of independent living.  Most hip fractures are, in one way or another, preventable.

• An individual who takes a diuretic (water pill) will have a higher blood alcohol level after an alcoholic beverage than if not on a diuretic.  Alcohol is one of the drugs that is distributed in body water, not fat or muscle.

• Can’t wait to see what you will look like when you are elderly?  You can accelerate the aging process by sunbathing and smoking.

• More medications are constipating than you realize.

• Perhaps the most unforeseen danger to healthy aging:  chart lore.  An absolutely erroneous entry into the record (such as an “M.S.” abbreviation becoming “multiple sclerosis” rather than “mental state” or “morphine sulfate”) becomes imbedded as fact.  This problem has worsened in the “copy and paste” era of electronic records.  Keep as vigilant of your medical record problem list as your annual credit report. 

• Wisdom and vocabulary are two areas of human intellect that improve with aging.

• We can only hold about 5-7 numbers in our working memory at a time (example:  holding a phone or fax number in mind just long enough to use it).  But the brain considers 2-digit numbers as one.  If the phone number is 552-1890, remember “fifty-five, twenty-one, eighty-nine, 0”.   You’re remembering four numbers, not seven.

• In terms of heart and bone health, minimal risk to joints, and accessibility, walking is the most underappreciated exercise. (Thanks and hat tip, Dr. Jeff Tanji)