Duke University-trained geriatrician Michael K. McCloud is the creator and course director of UC Davis’ acclaimed “Aging and Medical Science: A Mini Medical School to Prepare for Life’s Second Half.” Since 2002, this tuition-free program has opened the doors of UC Davis School of Medicine to more than 5,000 individuals seeking to learn secrets to healthy aging from top medical and nursing school faculty members.

Q: You were a practicing physician for 15 years before you decided to focus on geriatrics. What prompted you to make the switch?

A: I began a private practice at a time when there were no boards or training programs in geriatrics. My practice interests evolved quickly to caring for older adults, and included a large number of house calls and nursing home patients. In large part, I simply enjoyed the rich personal histories and wisdom of older adults, and seldom did a visit end without a smile and a laugh. But I was also taken by the observation that geriatrics was an area of medicine that relatively few physicians did well.

Q: As you have aged, how has your view on aging changed and how does it affect the advice you give?

A: I believe that, as I have matured, I have become a better listener. I have also dropped the expression “at your age” from my vocabulary.

Q: How have the expectations and concerns of older Americans evolved over the past 20 years?

A: The concept of a traditional retirement has certainly changed. There is an expectation of working longer, either by financial necessity or personal passion. There is increasing interest in remaining vital and engaged in both community and family. Volunteerism, lifelong learning and exercise are part of the daily routine of even the very elderly.

When Southern California’s premier retirement community dropped the name “Leisure World” in 2005 (it became Laguna Woods), it was evident that the traditional image of retirement as blissful inactivity is not a selling point to today’s active older adult.

I do have one concern about changing expectations of older Americans – the mindset that “there must be a pill for that.” Nearly half of adults over 65 are taking five or more prescription medications. Direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical marketing and disease mongering (creating diseases to fit already existing medications) has made many older Americans vulnerable to the ravages of overtreatment.

Q: What do you see as the next big breakthrough that will affect the health of older Americans?

A: I think the wave of technolog-ical innovation geared at allowing adults to “age in place” has already arrived. Adaptive devices, particularly for the hearing, visually and memory impaired, along with monitors of personal fitness and safety, are leading the way. We will see boutiques of fracture preventive clothing. And who knew that Google engineers were developing eating utensils that can counter-balance a tremor?

We will also be hearing more about “virtual villages,” now gaining in popularity. These allow like-minded seniors to retain independence through reciprocal concierge-like services (help with computer, household repair, travel companions, etc).

Q: What do you believe are the most pressing issues facing older Americans today?

A: Eight to ten thousand Americans are now joining the 65 and older club daily. Half will see their 80s, and a quarter will reach 90.

But one in three Americans who turn 90 will not know it’s his or her birthday. Unless we make considerable strides in the prevention and management of dementia, the emotional and financial toll on American families will be staggering.

We need to remember that our less fortunate citizens are aging, too.

Three in 10 older Americans are not receiving influenza or pneumonia vaccine. Excessive alcohol use accounts for 21,000 deaths after age 65 annually. Only about a quarter of older Americans get adequate exercise, and one in 10 qualifies as “food insecure.” An estimated 1 million to 2 million elderly are subjected to caregiver abuse annually. And according to the NIH, two-thirds of older adults have limited health literacy, defined as the ability to understand basic health information such as directions on a prescription.

Q: What would people be surprised to know about you?

A: I was one of California’s first hospice physicians.

Q: When did you know you wanted to become a physician?

A: I recently came across long-forgotten school records, including an essay I had written as a seventh grader in Ohio. The assignment had been to describe my future. I predicted that I would never marry; I would be a doctor and live in Northern California. I showed this to my wife, who said it really did sound like me: “You’re right two-thirds of the time.”