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Make the golden years golden
A doctor's pointers on aging well

Date published: 11/22/2009

AS I RATTLE inexorably toward old age, my patients make me see the need for some kind of planning.

There are Mrs. A and her husband, who are effectively housebound by her stroke. There's Mrs. B., who is depressed from having to relocate in old age to a place where she knows no one. And there's Mr. C, with his Alzheimer's. Perhaps even more distressed is his wife, who frets over him incessantly.

The golden years can be pretty leaden without a little planning.

I'm not sure that in a single column I can give you a detailed prescription for managing old age. But I do want to share some pointers on how you can move more gracefully into your later years.

Much of the advice is the same old stuff: Eat right, exercise, don't indulge in unhealthy habits such as smoking, drinking too much, doing drugs, etc.

But probably most basic of all is the need to educate yourself--to make the effort to seek out the information you need to know.

You also need to implement all this advice you gather, and early. If you apply it only when you are already "golden," it may be too late.

PUTTING THINGS IN PLACE

Dr. Andrew Weil--that also aging, white-bearded guru of all things natural--has written a good book called "Healthy Aging: A Lifelong Guide to Your Well-Being."

In it, Weil notes: "Old people often torment themselves with three general concerns: (1) They don't want to suffer; (2) They don't want to be a burden to others; (3) They want the remainder of their lives to be meaningful."

Another point he makes is to forget all the nostrums and strategies to prolong life. Rather, accept the number of years you have been allocated, and do your best to stay healthy until it is time to fall off your perch.

Not everything you need to consider is strictly medical, though. Gearing up for old age means thinking about things such as estate planning, retirement and pension plans, life insurance, long-term-care insurance and health insurance.

Where you are going to live--and how you are going to cope with what comes your way--also are essential things to consider, though not strictly medical.


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To enjoy your golden years:

Get enough sleep. Take valerian or melatonin as a natural sleep aid if you really need help. Taking naps can also be restorative--often just a few-minute power nap will re-charge your battery.

Enhance your spiritual and emotional health by keeping connected to friends and family and being part of a community. Try volunteering, going to church or doing some team activity.

Or take the recommendation of Kathleen Dowling Singh--author of "The Grace in Dying"--and make a spiritual inventory. This involves answering such questions as "Who have I been?" "What gives my life meaning?" "What do I need to clear up or let go of?"

--Patrick Neustatter