Despite age-related changes, senior citizens should still feel pretty good and enjoy themselves throughout their lives, according to specialists who will be featured during Saturday's Deseret News/Intermountain Healthcare Hotline.
"It's fascinating for me to see over the last few years how people have been healthier," said Dr. C. Edward Wyne, geriatrician at Intermountain Senior Clinic. "I have a number of 90-year-old patients who live at home, see me every three to six months to take care of blood pressure and various pains and still enjoy life, function well and do remarkably well. Ten to 20 years ago, that would have been uncommon."
Senior-health issues are the focus of the hotline. From 10 a.m. to noon, Wyne and his colleague Sandra McNicoll, an advanced practice registered nurse specializing in senior care, will answer phoned-in questions about senior health issues, including the efficacy of flu shots and preventive steps seniors can take to enhance health. You can also e-mail questions to email@example.com. Answers to a selection of those questions will be posted online at noon on Sept. 19.
That doesn't mean age has no effect, Wyne said. Many people do have problems with arthritis pain and limitations of muscle strength that are both related to getting older. "You need to pace yourself better and do things so you will not fall down," he said.
Doctors are more cautious when prescribing medications for older patients, he said, because side effects may be more severe or the drug may be metabolized differently. But there is no age at which it's not a good idea to treat ills like high blood pressure and heart disease.
And older people are more apt to have more than one medical problem at the same time, including chronic conditions. But the duo point out that there is also a huge difference between sick and healthy older individuals.
Prevention includes being more cautious about exposure, especially for those who are older and frailer. That means taking care in big public gatherings and also avoiding family members who are sick.
The other key point is recognizing when you're not getting better and doing something about it. "If you're older and seem to be getting worse," Wyne said, "get to a doctor earlier. A 25-year-old can wait and see if she gets well. But if you're older and frailer, after about three days, be seen. That's long enough to tell which direction it's going."
Flu should peak at three days before a person starts to recover. Pneumonia is a feared complication of influenza and senior citizens need to be aware they will not always have a fever with that, like younger people do. So watch for shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, which are both indications a medical evaluation is in order.
The Deseret News and Intermountain Healthcare tackle a different topic each month on the second Saturday.Tomorrow: Do vaccines make a difference for seniors?