Some patients in their 70s and 80s are still in good overall health, only see their doctors once a year and take few medications. For others, there’s more to manage.
The keys to living well for patients in their later years revolve around mindset and willingness to have important conversations with their families and their doctors, said Dr. Alicia Brooks, a physician at Novant Health Salem Family Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
“At some point, there is usually a transition from the mindset that everything that I have is curable to these are normal conditions of aging that I need to learn how to manage,” Brooks said. “Even if you’ve been healthy your whole life, we want to help make those adjustments when it comes time.”
By 2030, all baby boomers will be older than 65. The addition of this gigantic demographic means that 1 in every 5 Americans will be at retirement age by then.
Brooks talks about some of the bigger conversations that her and her fellow doctors are now having more and more.
Who’s your ‘Champion?’
It’s a good idea to start thinking about things like advanced care planning, no matter your age, Brooks said.
“We’re not just deciding what happens at end of life, we’re talking about end of life care,” Brooks said. “There’s no right or wrong, it’s just what you want when that time comes. It’s important to have that conversation with your doctor and your family ahead of time so if something happens one day, it’s already understood what you want.”
Novant Health offers a free service called Choices and Champions that helps you name your healthcare “champion” -- someone who will voice the patient’s wishes should they need it -- and offers planning tools online or over the phone.
Brooks said her office can also print forms for patients who bring up advanced care planning at visits and can help get them notarized if they want to put their wishes in writing while at the doctor’s office. She said they can also discuss living arrangements or future living arrangements with patients and their families.
Vitamins: often a waste of money
Brooks said a lot of seniors take vitamin and mineral supplements that are costly and may not be worth the money.
“Beyond a multivitamin, you’re really just getting excess vitamins unless you have a true deficiency that you’d be tested for,” Brooks said. “I tell my patients they won’t hurt you, but it makes really expensive urine.”
Being forgetful is a long ways from dementia
While Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are worries that many seniors bring up with their doctor, they’re often unfounded. Forgetting where you put your keys or what you did the other day is common, she said. Forgetting the name of a person you see every day is another matter, Brooks said.
“There’s a lot of cognitive slowing down that happens with aging that can be normal, but if you’re forgetting things like how to turn the stove on or forgetting to turn it off, it’d be something to talk about,” she said.
“If you’re worried about forgetfulness, it’s OK to consider having a family member help you balance the budget. Maybe you’re worried about your balance, so you use a walking stick for when you go for a long walk,” Brooks said. “Part of aging well is recognizing what’s a concern and what’s a part of aging and then embracing it.”
None of us knows what the future holds or what medical decisions we may have to make. The most important thing you can do now is choose who you trust to speak for you if you are ever unable to make your own medical decisions.