Dr. McCloud’s 14 hints for healthy aging

By June 2, 2011

Physician Michael K. McCloud recalls the incident fondly. On one typical Saturday evening about two years ago, he received a telephone call. A woman who recently had moved to a retirement community began experiencing painful symptoms of a urinary infection. Because she recently relocated, she had no local physician in the area yet. A friend who is a patient of McCloud’s encouraged the ailing woman to call him for assistance.

McCloud, a UC Davis clinical professor of medicine, readily agreed to see the woman — at her home. After stopping by his office to pick up urine testing equipment, he arrived at her seniors’ complex within the hour. On the stairs to her third-floor apartment, a passing resident spotted the well-worn black medical bag in McCloud’s hand. The woman stopped him to comment, “That looks just like one of those old-fashioned bags doctors used to take on house calls.”

This year, McCloud marks his 11th anniversary as a clinician educator on the faculty of the UCD department of medicine in the Division of General Medicine. And while he still makes numerous evening and weekend patient calls, not just his black bag but also a medical student is likely to be in tow.

“We have a critical shortage of physicians and nurses with training in the special needs of the elderly,” notes McCloud. With the shortage projected to even worsen, McCloud has shifted the focus of his work to encouraging and teaching the next generation of physicians and physician extenders the skills and sensitivity necessary to treat our most vulnerable adult population.

McCloud has compiled a list of 14 recommendations for health aging:

1. Diet and exercise? Sure, they are important. But they are only two legs of the healthy aging tripod. The third is sleep. An extra 30 minutes of sleep each night can help stave off hypertension, heart attacks and depression. Some evidence indicates that increasing sleep may even boost immunity.

2. When was the last time you met a thriving elderly person who got that way through taking food supplements?

3. Any diet that can truly enhance longevity must contain these three words: moderation, variety and balance.

4. Do you have some new, annoying symptom? Before asking what medicine you should take for it, ask which medicine you should stop because of it.

5. If you have a chronic medical condition, become an unabashed authority on it.

6. A well-kept, unambiguous chart of all medications taken can protect you from medication misadventures. Don’t list “Coumadin 2,” for example. Say “Coumadin (warfarin) 2 mg, taking two tabs (= 4 mg) daily. Anticoagulant.”

7. Create moments of activity throughout the day, and you will have exercised without realizing it. A good day’s workout might include choosing stairs rather than an elevator, getting some gardening in, dancing, and having that important conversation over a walk.

8. Go to the doctor’s office not to learn your blood pressure, but to show your blood pressure. Show the average of a dozen readings from home. Occasionally check it both sitting and standing — it should not drop more than 15 to 20 points.

9. Look at the skin of your outer forearm. Does it reveal your age? Then look at the sun-protected inner forearm. Look younger? So why not sun-protect the rest of you?

10. The No. 1 reason for loss of independence is a hip fracture. Wearing hip protectors, avoiding multifocal eyeglasses when walking or stair climbing, reducing medications and alcohol, and wearing secure footwear all lessen risk of a nursing home in your future.

11. Have your vitamin D and vitamin B-12 blood levels checked. Identifying and correcting actual deficiencies of either may prevent disabling illness in the future.

12. Do you love playing bridge? Take piano lessons. Is golf your passion? Learn Italian. An aging brain becomes more resilient when challenged to take on unfamiliar skills and tasks.

13. There may be some stay-at-home individuals who age well without involvement in the community. I haven’t met any, though.

14. Are you a cigarette smoker? The above tips won’t work for you. But the benefits of stopping accrue rapidly.

For many more hints to successful aging and to learn about the Mini Medical School, visit www.agewell.ucdavis.edu on the Internet.

— Excerpted from UCD department of internal medicine’s Pass the Torch newsletter in fall 2010. To suggest or contribute an article, email Lydia Delis-Schlosser at [email protected]

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