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Ahead of Time

by Erica Bauwens

An annual checkup with a physician can make all the difference in a senior citizen’s day-to-day health and personal independence.

Aging brings plenty of lifestyle changes with it when it comes to health and wellness, and it may seem a bit jarring at first as one enters their golden years. But it’s a natural part of life that doesn’t have to cause concern. With the proper care and annual physicals—and following the important advice doled out by a physician—a senior citizen can expect many years of independence to come.

A preventive approach
Any physician will stress the importance of annual checkups for their patient, but in the case of senior citizens, it is especially important. Aging can also mean new ailments like arthritis, osteoporosis and hypertension combined with new prescriptions and supplements that need monitoring. But all that doesn’t have to mean an end of quality of life. With an annual well visit to monitor physical conditions as well as changes in prescriptions, seniors can stay healthy and happy into their later years.

“I think what’s different about seniors and the need for an annual checkup is really that with age there is an increase in chronic disease,” says Dr. Thomas Cavalieri, a geriatric clinician and dean at the UMDNJ School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford. “And the diseases that we’re talking about, if diagnosed early and treated appropriately, could really alter—in a positive way—the rest of one’s life.”

By approaching symptoms at their start, physicians are presented with more options and seniors are given a better chance at continuing on with their active lifestyle.

At your annual visit, Cavalieri suggests updating all your immunizations, including the flu shot, pneumonia, shingles and tetanus vaccine. You also want to be screened for diabetes as well as for any cancers with a colonoscopy, blood test, digital rectal exams for men and a mammogram screening for women.

Physicians should also screen for hearing and vision loss. “When people develop these losses gradually, they might not recognize it,” says Cavalieri. Along with that, an oral exam can help identify any gradual problems with gum or tooth decay.

A checkup can also help eliminate any complications from prescription medications. “Older people are typically on a lot of different medications, and some of these medications could be causing symptoms and side effects,” says Cavalieri. “It’s very important that the patient speak to the physician and find out if they still need all of their medications and find out if they’re causing any of their problems.”

In-home options
The advancements in geriatric care have taken the typical checkup and brought it to the homes of many South Jersey seniors. Patients who are experiencing difficulty making it out of the home to see their physicians for a checkup or a new prescription can get a full range of care in-home, from blood and balance tests to x-rays, immunizations, and prescription care.

At Turnersville Internal Medicine and Geriatrics, Dr. Ahsan Abdulghani has a full team of doctors, assistants and nurse practioners that provide a full range of in-home care to senior citizens, including annual well visits. Abdulghani says the entire dynamic of a visit can change for the better when the environment changes.

“When you go into the office, you’re dressed up and prepared, you put up a good show,” he says. “But at home, you’re in your natural state.”

There are no requirements when it comes to in-home care, and patients have been reaching out to geriatric specialists to help them when they are bed ridden on injury, uncomfortable with the outside environment, or even experiencing car troubles.

No matter the need, senior citizens can receive the necessary care without relying on a friend or family member, protecting their much-needed independence. “A lot of seniors won’t go out of the house when it’s cold because of a fear of slipping on ice, some don’t feel comfortable driving, and in the summer they have a fear of experiencing heat stroke,” says Turnersville Internal Medicine and Geriatrics administrator Amy Bustard. “Seniors want to maintain their independence without relying on other family members.”

“The worst thing you can do to yourself is say, ‘I couldn’t go to my doctors, so let me just stay home and tough it out,’” says Abdulghani. “The delay that is caused by being stubborn and not seeking help is the real danger.”

Sometimes, the senior’s own home can be a threat to their health, so in-home physicians also work with social services to assess the senior’s housing situation. Clutter, poor ventilation or a lack of heating and cooling can all lead to health complications, but they can also be resolved through senior well visits.

Independently healthy
When the checkup is finished, Cavalieri stresses that the next great step in preventive care and personal independence starts with the patient.

“People say to me: ‘Doctor, what is the one thing I can do best to avoid me becoming dependent on others?’” Cavalieri says. “People have that fear, but the data really shows that being active both physically and mentally is the best thing that one can do to avoid that.”

Cavalieri suggests talking to your geriatric medical professional about remaining active. From there, the physician can lay out a fitness plan tailored around your individual lifestyle. “There’s always an exercise program for everyone,” he says. “No matter that person’s status, the physician can help lay out a plan to help that person stay physically active.”

Most importantly, don’t hold in any new questions or concerns until your next checkup. By then, the damage may already have been done.

“I tell people to get their problems taken care of in advance,” says Abdulghani. “A little bit of prevention makes all the difference.”

Resources

Turnersville Internal Medicine and Geriatrics
4501 Route 42 S.
Turnersville
(856) 740-9777
Timg-MD.com

UMDNJ School of Osteopathic Medicine
One Medical Center Drive
Stratford
(856) 566-6764
som.umdnj.edu

Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 10 (December, 2012).
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