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Successful Aging

Most of us think of the aging process as a time of
deterioration, but a concept encouraged by health care professionals who care
for older people is turning the table on that myth.

"Successful aging" means growing older without
a lot of the maladies so often associated with aging: memory loss, disabilities,
diseases. The good news is that "successful aging" isn’t just a catch
phrase, says Nancy Stiles, M.D., a geriatrician (an internal-medicine physician
who specializes in the care of older people) at the University of Kentucky Chandler
Medical Center.

"Our society still has the misconception that
as you get older, it’s normal to have memory loss, to lose weight, to slow down,
and to experience overall decline. That’s simply not true," Stiles says.

If you notice a problem-maybe a growing tendency toward
forgetfulness or trouble climbing the stairs-don’t ignore it. Bring it to the
attention of your physician.

"It could be something that’s quite treatable,
and because of early detection, we may be able to ward off a more serious problem
later," says Stiles.

Prevention is a critical component to successful aging.
Keys to prevention are proper nutrition and a dose of exercise.

Older people need to make sure they’re getting the
nutrition they need, Stiles says. Vitamins aren’t necessary unless the diet is
lacking, she says.

For a lot of older folks, exercise conjures up unpleasant
memories of jumping jacks and sit-ups, but exercise can be enjoyable. "Make
it a social opportunity, not something you dread," Stiles explains.

Also, Stiles adds, "Make sure you’re receiving
the best care for your condition. For example, ask your physician about the latest
medications available for your ailments."

It’s a good idea to consider consulting a geriatrician
to ensure you’re doing everything you can to age successfully, Stiles says. "Even
if you think you are doing well for your age or have no major problems, this is
when we like to see people to make sure that we prevent any problems from developing,
or treat them early, and hopefully minimize their long-term impact.

"As you get older, don’t assume it’s normal for
your health to decline. Take an active role in making life healthy and happy,"
says Stiles.

HOW TO AGE SUCCESSFULLY

Nancy Stiles, M.D., offers these tips to help
you age successfully:

  • Build a strong social network. Many older people are able to avoid entering
    a nursing home because they have a strong social network.
  • Maintain a good weight.
  • Be an informed patient. Many resources, particularly the World Wide Web,
    are available to help.
  • See your physician regularly, particularly at the earliest sign of a problem.
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