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Don't Believe the Myths

The Truth About Aging

iStock 000001084994XSmall“You’re just getting older.”  “There’s not much we can do at your age.” 

Why do doctors say these things to older patients? How often is it true? What is the truth regarding health and aging?

Those of us trained in geriatric medicine know that these phrases are rarely true. As geriatricians, it is our responsibility to provide realistic hope. It is also our duty to be honest with patients. If nothing can be done, we must tell them. But can we really blame it on their age? As I tell my patients, perhaps when they’re in their mid- to late 90’s can we actually blame their problems on the aging process itself!

Some years ago, I saw a woman who was 85 years old.  She had been in a wheelchair for two years because of bad arthritis in her knees. Her doctor had told her that she was ‘too old’ for surgery. She believed this and became wheelchair bound. She felt that she was a burden to her family and that there was no hope for her. She became depressed and less functional. We saw her and determined that there was no reason for her not to have surgery on her knees. She underwent this surgery and within a few months was walking!

Geriatricians know that hope is often the lifeline to functional independence in our older patients. Once this hope is gone, withdrawal and decline soon follow. If, at first, we see no hope, we keep looking for it. If the options are risky, we discuss them with our patients--ultimately, it is their decision. To some people, the risk of surgery is far outweighed by the consequences of not having surgery.

If your doctor tells you that you’re just getting old, question them. Point out the 90-year-old marathon runner who doesn’t seem to be "just getting old." Ask for another opinion. The goal of geriatric medicine is to promote optimal function in our patients. Stick up for yourself!  Good luck!

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