Geriatric Health

Doctor, do I really have to do this?
by Dr. Henry Petry
Published in The Joplin Globe Body & Mind supplement
May/June 2010

Patients often ask, “Doctor, do I really have to do this?” Of course, the physician usually answers yes. The physician’s job is to help patients have a better quality of life and, oftentimes, increase length of life. This can mean advising patients to cut down on favorite foods, stop smoking, and increase time spent exercising, recommendations not always welcomed by patients.

As consumers, we all abuse our bodies in a number of ways. For instance, we eat too much and use tobacco. Heart disease, the number one cause of death in the U.S. today, occurs in men and women almost equally. To prevent heart disease, physicians tell us to eat less fat, salt, and sugar, as well as lose weight. And patients frequently ask, “Do I really have to do this?”

In this country our diet usually consists of too much fat, too much meat, too much salt, too many calories, and too much fast food. Not only do we eat the wrong kinds of food, but we also eat far too much at mealtime. “But doctor, how can I change when I have been doing this for sixty years?” The only thing constant about change is change! You have to begin sometime, so make today the day you begin a healthier life.

How do you know you can’t do it unless you try? Eating the way we do leads to high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and kidney failure. As a patient you hear about these problems from your physician and probably ignore a lot of what you hear. Or, perhaps you make healthy changes, but only for a short time. For continued good health, the changes need to go on forever. Even if you are eighty years young, dietary change can and will improve quality of life.

Another disease-causing habit, use of tobacco products, shortens our life span and results in an increase in our insurance rates. Diseases caused by tobacco use include chronic lung disease, heart disease, and a whole host of different cancers. Stopping the use of tobacco products can be very difficult for many people; however, physicians offer ways to help you stop. What if you are too old to stop? Even if you are ninety years old, stopping tobacco will add years to your life. You do not know if you will be able to stop unless you try. Help is available. 

Now that we’ve picked on all the good stuff, life’s little indulgences, what’s next? Don’t underestimate the benefits of exercise. Exercise, essential to your body, benefits your mind too. Physical exercise helps increase your mental functioning. One of the keys to a quality life, exercise also improves your safety. For example, the incidence of falling rises after age 60. However, preventing falls with relatively simple interventions, such as exercise, helps maintain function and strength in your arms, legs, and core muscles.

“Doctor, must I take this medicine, and why?” The correct use of medicine, as prescribed by your physician, is essential. Changes in our bodies caused by age and disease may require medications to provide us with a quality life. Medicines help control high blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol, thyroid problems, and many other conditions. Your physician, working with your pharmacist, can explain the correct use of the medication as well as the many factors that affect how medications work, including diet, lifestyle, and other prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, herbs, and supplements that may interact. After that, it is up to you to take them correctly.

As you can see, quality of life and safety require a cooperative effort between you and your physician and pharmacist. Listen to them, be sure to ask questions, and enjoy the most valuable indulgence of all—good health. You really have to do this.

About Henry Petry, DO:
Henry Petry, DO, a board-certified physician, specializes in geriatric medicine and family practice. He practices at Freeman Center for Geriatric Medicine in Joplin, where he is accepting Medicare-age patients.