Did you know that the average length of time a doctor spends with a patient is eight minutes?
Did you know that every day more than 6,000 people hit their 65th birthdays?
Did you know that 25 percent of U.S. families are involved in the caretaking of a loved one?
The population of the U.S. (and the world) is rapidly graying. In the next decade or so, as the baby boom generation ages and the generation behind it is too small to provide all the health care needs the boomers will require, we older folks must take on more responsibility for our own health along with many other life requirements during our later years.
It is an idea I call Responsible Aging, and I touched on it in my introduction to the idea a couple of weeks ago. And now, right on cue it seems to me, the newly published Merck Manual of Health & Aging is an extraordinary aid to understanding and doing something for ourselves about our own aging.
It begins with an essay on an obvious and sometimes confusing question: “When Does a Person Become Old?” which introduces the idea of “healthy aging,” a subset of Responsible Aging.
“Healthy aging refers to a postponement of or reduction in the undesired effect of aging. The goals of healthy aging are maintaining physical and mental health, avoiding disorders, and remaining active and independent.”
The book contains clear, well-written, thorough explanations of more than 100 diseases, conditions and disorders that commonly afflict older folks, including reasonable mentions of non-traditional treatments.
But before the editors get to the encyclopedic list of medical conditions (written in language any lay person can understand), there are 200 pages of extraordinarily important and interesting information about aging that I do not believe has been collected in one place elsewhere.
There are sections on how the body ages; the demographics of aging in the U.S. and worldwide and what that means to our health and to our healthcare systems. There is solid information on maintaining nutrition; on drugs and aging; on understanding medical tests, surgery and rehabilitation; long-term care and caregiving; and on how to navigate the difficulties of financing health care. Our bodies are changing as much, though differently, as they did during puberty and it is essential that we understand how and what that means to both daily life and any illnesses we encounter.
My short description here barely scratches the surface. There is a remarkable amount of good, hard information to have at your fingertips when need arises. Before that, or in between, Merck has also scattered throughout the book essays by older people on what it’s like to get older – a topic close to my heart as you can see from my banner above.
The Merck Manual of Health & Aging is a rich resource you will use for the rest of your life. If the price seems high and it’s a choice between some light reading for the summer and this book, go for the manual. I’m sure you’ve got a friend who’ll pass on a good, trashy beach novel or two.