Function counts for more than chronological age when it comes to getting older. You can be spry and healthy at 95. Or you can have serious chronic conditions that are life limiting in your 60s and 70s.

But it's wrong to assume that old age is automatically rough, according to Dr. C. Edward Wyne, a geriatrician, and Sandra McNicoll, an advanced-practice registered nurse, both at Intermountain Senior Clinic.

During Saturday's Deseret News/Intermountain Healthcare Hotline, they talked about the importance of attitude and exercise to aging well — two factors that provide value even for people with chronic conditions.

It's easy to focus on people who aren't well, Wyne said, but most of the senior citizens he treats are aging very well and staying active and healthy, even into their 90s. Not everyone, but most.

Besides some chronic conditions, depression is an area of concern, McNicoll said. And that's another reason to stay active and involved.

"If I could spread one message, it would be that they are still useful after they stop earning a paycheck," she said. "They are so valuable" as guides who have been there, as grandparents, as mentors and in other roles. And most of them slide right into retirement and their advancing years, to end up "busier than ever," she said.

While Alzheimer's disease is a feared malady of aging, even among 90-year-olds, only about 40 percent have it.

"That means 60 percent don't," Wyne said.

National estimates, he said, put nursing home placement of the elderly at about 10-15 percent. While that's an outcome dreaded by a lot of people, he noted that most people do not need it. And in large part the dread is unfounded.

Many of the 25 callers wanted more information on the new shingles vaccine and a once-a-year shot to help prevent the bone loss that leads to osteoporosis.

McNicoll is adamant that seniors need to have a bone scan to make sure they're not losing bone density. And they agreed that it's crucial to get enough calcium, vitamin D and exercise. Those may even stabilize bones that have lost some mass.

Vitamin D also lessens the risk of falling, Wyne said.

McNicoll said one can get adequate vitamin D with as little as 15 minutes sunshine without sunscreen or by taking a supplement.

The hotline, the second Saturday of each month, tackles different issues. Readers were also invited to submit questions by e-mail, and answers from McNicoll and Wyne will be online at noon Friday on our Web site.

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