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Redwood Age: Healthy Ways
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Tom Murphy,  October 14, 2008

My dear mother, who is now 92, eschews modern medicine. Although she worked as a registered nurse - or, perhaps, because she worked as a registered nurse - she has always refused to take more than half an aspirin for most maladies, and they have to be pretty bad before she goes to that extreme. She eats a balanced diet, including her share of baked goods. She has always walked more than people her age. She tried smoking a few times, but never picked up the habit. She believes in doing chores like gardening and cleaning herself instead of hiring others to do them. And, although she has a cholesterol count like a cheese Danish, she's so healthy that her doctors now admit she can pretty much do whatever she wants. In fact, the sickest she's ever been was when she had to go into the hospital for a broken arm and they gave her MRSA, the dreaded killer bacteria that's become so very popular among the infirmed. I mention all this because of a new report that points out people who took Vioxx for their arthritis showed a higher risk of stroke, heart attacks and - gulp - death for at least a year after they stopped taking the drug. Mind you, the Vioxx was never shown to be more effective than aspirin, which is also much, much cheaper. Once again, I have to admit, mom was right: eat a balanced diet, get some exercise and take as little medicine as your really need.

Cecily O'Connor,  October 2, 2008

Allstate is piloting a new program to determine if brain fitness workouts will help older drivers stay sharp. These programs aim to improve visual processing and speed, which could really help keep some drivers on the road longer - and safer. But, quite honestly, I think most of us could benefit from a driving tune-up - at any age. Improved cognition is just one part of staying fit. Getting rid of distractions like cell phones is another key to being safe. Even with a headset, which is the requirement in California, dialing cell phone numbers and fumbling to get a Bluetooth working properly will disturb your rhythm on the road. Not to mention the cries, whines and toy throwing that can occur in the backseat if you have kids. Some of us have been lucky to avoid accidents amid all these distractions. Let's keep it that way. At the core, Allstate's program reinforces road safety, a message all of us should heed, whether our brain is having a good or bad day.

Cathie Ramey,  August 23, 2008

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Thank goodness there are voices of reason blatantly rejecting the notion that boomers are going to drain the life out of Social Security and Medicare. A new poll shows Americans rate boomers as having the most positive effect on society of any generation. And in a world where  adults 65 and older can be conceived as being nothing more than a drain on society, Paul Kleyman,. the noted Editor of the American Society on Aging, is also willing to say is isn't so. Dr. William Thomas has been saying it isn't so for a long time, and if you've ever heard him speak, you'll know in an instant that he's right.  For boomers, the next stage of life will be  an opportunity for growth,  learning, contribution and productivity. Boomers have greased the wheels of society by sharing their life experience, their time, and their ability to be productive with family, friends, and their communities. Gazing into 20, 30 or 40 years of retirement time, they're telling anyone who'll listen that checking out of the mainstream for a gold watch and the golf course is not their idea of achieving life satisfaction.  Instead boomers are saying they want to stay in the workforce, volunteer in a meaningful way, continue learning, and stay connected to society.  If boomers are working, they're going to be contributing to Social Security and Medicare. As volunteers they'll save organizations thousands of dollars in labor costs.  As students they'll be paying tuition, buying books and bringing their unique knowledge to the classroom that only comes with experience.   Time to start thinking of boomers and their parents as the natural resource they are and derail the ageism that continues to deny it.

Tom Murphy,  August 12, 2008

In the past two decades we have - thankfully - seen tremendous progress in fighting breast cancer, one of the leading causes of death for women. Regretfully, we've seen less progress in the fight against prostate cancer, which kills three Americans each hour. Yes, there've been numerous new treatments - like implanting radioactive "seeds" in the prostate. But the debate continues over whether or not they should be used because of such side effects as impotency and incontinence - and cost to insurers. The latest research advises doctors against even testing men over 75 for the disease, saying the resulting treatments could do more harm than good. It is very hard to imagine that doctors would advise men they shouldn't even be tested to determine if they have a cancer, no matter how slowly it might kill them. It's hard enough to convince men to go get a check-up. Now we're telling them to skip some of the checks. Is this really the best we can do to stop a disease that kills 31,700 Americans a year?

Cecily O'Connor,  July 26, 2008

I hate to pay for things I can do myself. But after a year in which my insurance company lost my claims - and repeatedly kept me on hold when I'd call with questions - I'd pay for help. Some consumers are turning to health advocacy companies for help in haggling over insurance coverage and managing other medical system nightmares. Constrained by call-center hours, most of us have to tend to this stuff during  our work day. Who has that kind of time? At one advocacy company, Health Advocates, registered nurses talk to patients. And each patient gets an advocate who stays with the case, acting as the recurring contact. There's also people who help with insurance claims and other administrative questions. Some workers are lucky enough to get advocacy services as a benefit through their employer, while the rest of us have to shell out a couple hundred dollars. Is it worth it? Guess that depends on how long you're willing to hold.

Tom Murphy,  July 15, 2008

Mike Bloomberg once told me he didn't plan to visit California because "there are no good restaurants west of 12th Avenue." New Yorkers love to pretend they lead the universe. But I have to give hizzoner a huzzah for embracing a subject most politicians try to avoid: poverty in his own town. The Big Apple just redefined the meaning of "poor" to include such everyday costs as clothing and child care. (The Federal Poverty Line apparently thinks clothing is optional.) This isn't just an academic debate. By New York's new standards, one in three elders are poor and need help. Even under the four-decade-old federal standards, nearly one in five New York seniors is poor. And while you can argue that New York is expensive, we still have to figure out how to make sure the millions of people there - and anywhere else - can stay healthy. Not many of the aging poor can enjoy a nice restaurant, but at least New York will make sure they get served when they need a hot meal.

Tom Murphy,  June 20, 2008

In the tell-me-something-I-didn't-know category, the AMA reports that not all health plans are created equal. The quality question gets more critical as boomers age and start paying up for all that reckless living. Research is generating a lot of advances in medicine, like a new immunity treatment to cope with skin cancer. But some problems, like life-threatening arterial plaque, may require surgery and extended care. Either way, it's expensive, making it imperative that the largest generation have at least some coverage for major medical events. A shrinking pool of healthcare workers, notably thoracic surgeons, will only drive the costs much higher in the year ahead, just as the largest number of aging boomers needs more care. You can do a lot to stay healthy through diet, rest and exercise. But you've also got to be prepared for situations way beyond your control.

Tom Murphy,  May 31, 2008

Like anyone else, I get tired of hearing about "National Fill-in-the-Blank Week." There are weeks for everything these days, and whatever message they're trying to sell almost always gets lost. But I've decided to learn CPR and it's purely because of  "National CPR/AED Awareness Week." Even though that's the worst title for a week I've ever heard, the facts behind it really hit home. Turns out 166,200 people die of sudden cardiac arrest in the US each year. Unless you happen to be in a hospital already, the survival rate is 6 percent. If you have an attack - and anyone can, even young, healthy folks - your chances of survival drop by up to 10 percent a minute without CPR, yet only one-third of the victims get CPR. The rest die while people stand around saying "What should we do?"  Well, we know what we should do. We should learn CPR. Or, more specifically, I should learn CPR. And so should you.

Cathie Ramey,  May 14, 2008

It's safe to say my boomer friends and I are worried about getting Alzheimer's when we're older. Every time the subject of Alzheimer's or dementia comes up, some one will say "Please God, not me,"  and then we all laugh a little nervously. It's scary and disappointing to read that another medication has failed to slow down or reverse the effects of this disease and yet maybe by looking for a magic pill to solve our problem, we're sidestepping the real solution. As in so many situations, it comes down to taking personal responsibility for our  future well-being. Time and  again studies have shown that regular exercise supports a healthy brain. So does freedom from chronic diseases such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. What so many of us forget as we super-size our food choices or spend the day being a couch potato, is that the chronic diseases that are associated with aging are in many cases, preventable. True, I have known people who exercise  who have developed Alzheimer's but I've also known nonsmokers who have developed lung disease. There are always things we cannot control. However, given the information that's out there and the fact that we have a choice, we can still avoid smoking and  exercise regularly in the hopes of reaping the benefits. There are no guarantees, of course, but like wearing a seat belt, pursuing a healthy lifestyle improves our odds of living a long and happy life. Until that magic pill is discovered, I'm all for putting the odds in our favor.

Cathie Ramey,  April 13, 2008

Few events have the potential to wreak havoc with your parent's lifestyle like a fall.  It can be the trigger that moves them out of the family home; it can create fear and anxiety about living alone. It can be the result of a hip fracture or a stroke, not just the cause; and depending on many other factors, a fall can be the beginning of the decline that so many people fear. We want older family members to avoid falling at any time and some of the keys to staying on their feet are good balance, moderate exercise, good health including healthy bones, regular eye exams and creating a safe environment. It’s also important to realize that no matter how many safety features we install, or how fit they are, if they climb on step stools and ladders when they know they really shouldn’t or carry objects that block their line of vision, they're eventually going to trip or fall. Instead, they can create a win-win for themselves by executing their activities so that they match their capabilities and not risk life and limb. It's not about limiting life; it's about helping them acknowledge their age.



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