INTRODUCTION: “WHAT DO YOU EXPECT AT YOUR AGE?”

Frequently you will hear the question, “What do you expect at your age?” But, in fact, aging is not a disease. There are, of course, many illnesses that are more common in older people, but whatever illness might affect you, there are many ways to deal with it. I will try to take some of the mystery out of medicine and suggest how you can help your physician take care of you. It is less frightening and more reassuring if you know what is going on, rather than being bewildered by symptoms that are frequently puzzling and treatments that are often confusing and alarming.

Just as changes occur in childhood and adolescence, the passage from middle age to your mature years is also associated with certain changes. But these should not be thought of as illness or disease. You can continue to function very well despite these natural alterations. Many organs of the body decrease their ability to carry out functions as efficiently as you age. This gradual process begins during the early adult years and continues throughout life. Although the capacity for the body to function may lessen with age, there is ample reserve for life to continue actively and productively for many years.

As more research is done on the process of aging, it is becoming clear that some of the decline is as much a consequence of poor body maintenance as of the aging process itself. A Rolls Royce will deteriorate if not properly serviced, and a Model T Ford can be kept running beautifully and efficiently if maintained with care. Although illness occurs at all ages, often without apparent reason, many of the diseases affecting older people are at least partially if not completely the result of poor health habits throughout a lifetime. Some of these processes can be halted or modified, if not reversed. It is in your power to make the best out of what you have. It is never too late to change, and a conversion to a more positive, active role in your own care can lead not only to better health but also to discovering more enjoyment and satisfaction in life.

There are two sides to every medical interaction: the giver and the receiver. After you have learned more about your body and the changes or illnesses that can occur, you should be able to approach your physician intelligently and assertively. You will learn that you should receive an explanation about your medical condition. And you will find out that, whatever the illness, the possibilities of diagnosis and treatment should not be automatically denied because of your years.

It is important for you to feel comfortable with your physician. The best relationships are those that have been built up over many years. However, this is not always possible, and, unfortunately, many older people are intimidated by physicians. If you are not happy with the way your physician relates to you, do not be afraid to tell him. Some people go from one physician to another because they are afraid to tell each one that they are unhappy with their health care. This practice often leads to the absolutely worst medical care, because it takes mutual trust between physician and patient for the health care process to succeed.

Your physician should respond to your knowledge and interest positively. You should tell him that you would like to play an active role in your own health care. You can assist by confirming your confidence in his abilities. At the same time, you must express your desire to be treated honestly and openly. If you can reach this agreement with your physician, you are already well on the road to receiving good medical care.

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