Lessons on Aging After 50

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Reaching perimenopause and menopause can cause an evaluation of your life. At least for me, it’s been a good reminder that the sands have definitely shifted from the top half of the traditional egg timer to the bottom half.  I’ve been scouring the magazines, books, and other venues to find out how to age successfully. Most recently, I had the opportunity to attend a presentation on successful aging after 50 by Dr. David Hackethorn, who works in the Department of Internal Medicine at Scott & White Healthcare.

    Pointing out that 500,000 centenarians (people who are 100 years of age) live today and 20% life in American, Dr. Hackethorn noted that only a few thousand people to on to live to be super centenarians (people who live to be 110 years old). The aging process is often associated with disability, which can include high blood pressure, diminished lung capacity, loss of kidney function, stiff joints, and changing hormonal levels. 

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    Dr. Hackethorn noted researchers have studied the aging process, and defined successful aging as “living a long life without disease or disability.” For instance, a 1940 Harvard study that followed two groups of men for 6-7 decades found that men who exercised, controlled their weight, did not drink or smoke, were college educated, and had a coping style of personality tended to age better. Dr. Hackethorn also noted that since that research was published, the definition of successful aging has changed somewhat to focus on whether a person has achieved lifelong goals.

    Based on his practice (which focuses on adults over the age of 65), Dr. Hackethorn identified four major life stressors that lead to aging. These include:

    • Chronic disease, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, arthritis, or diabetes.  The physician noted that approximately half of patients who suffer from these health issues also are depressed, which doctors often don’t diagnosing. “Depression can drain every bit of energy out of your body,” Dr. Hackethorn explained.
    • Caregiving. Noting that 40 million Americans are caregiving for loved ones (with the vast majority of caregivers being women), Dr. Hackethorn said that this role can lead to depression, isolation, family disharmony, as well as loss of income. He noted that professionals are now developing courses to help caregivers.
    • Changing roles, based on retirement. Dr. Hackethorn explained that these changes cause a reevaluation of roles not only for the retiree, but also for the partner.
    • Loss, due to death (often of a family member).

    So what can you do? Dr. Hackethorn offered the following prescription:

    • Socialize with a network of family and friends with whom you have quality relationships. “People with this type of network do better physically and mentally,” he said, adding that participating in a volunteer activity or church can help build these types of relationships.
    • Exercise. “You’re never too old to take care of your body,” he explained.
    • Limit alcohol and quit smoking.
    • Focus on spirituality and wellness.
    • Practice self-efficacy by learning how to manage crisis situations. The doctor recommends learning about any diseases you have so that you can better manage your health.
Published On: October 19, 2010