Throughout this book, Dr. Butler does not waste words. Every chapter is packed with helpful information. Even when the admonitions are not new, they are a powerful reminder about how much we can control about our health and how to do it. Most of it is common sense, but we don't always practice that.
As Dr. Butler notes, we each are our physician's partner in prevention of diseases and conditions and it is important to educate ourselves not only about healthy living, but about the medical procedures that can help.
Sophisticated screening tests, many developed during our lifetimes, can detect problems before they are life-threatening. Your doctor should be your guide, but these are the basic tests:
Cholesterol – at least every five years; more frequently if it is elevated
Fasting Blood Glucose – every three years, more frequently if there is a family history of diabetes or if glucose levels are elevated
Blood Pressure – with every visit to your physician. Hypertension is “virtually undetectable” in daily life, say Dr. Butler, but easy to diagnose.
Colorectal – to help detect cancer, at your physician's recommendation
Eye Exam – every year or two to check for glaucoma, cataracts, age-related macular degeneration and vision loss
Dental – at least once a year
For men, there is an additional annual test for prostate-specific antigen that can detect cancer and other conditions.
Women need several more screenings: an annual breast exam by a physician, annual mammogram, pap smear and bone density test at intervals recommended by a physician. (Yes, there is controversy about how often mammograms should be done; consult your physician.)
When I was a kid, my grandfather's wife, for reasons of vanity, refused to wear a hearing aid and it was impossible to carry on a coversation when everything said by anyone in the room was followed by, “What did you say?” or “Speak up” from her.
Butler points out that hearing loss, in addition to being frustrating, reducing employment opportunities, causing isolation, depression and diminished participation in life, is also a safety issue.
“Not being able to hear such warning noises as honking horns, machinery, or other cues puts the person with a hearing deficit at greater risk for everyday accidents.”
Because it was mostly new information to me, I was most interested in Butler's section on immunizations. He recommends annual flu shots, which I do, and pneumonia (PPV) every five years beginning at age 65. But I was unfamiliar with several others.
Shingles, caused by a reactivation of the virus that causes chicken pox, is a painful skin eruption that occurs mostly in adults and can lead to chronic, debilitating pain and, sometimes, vision loss. A single innoculation after age 60 is advised.
Childhood vaccines protect most of us from tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis during adult years. But tetanus and diphtheria should, says Dr. Butler, be given again to people older than 65 and thereafter at ten-year intervals, especially for people who have close contact with children under one year of age.
If you Google HGH (human growth hormone), you'll get more than five million returns mostly selling it as an anti-aging drug – or selling something the seller says is HGH. Listen to Dr. Butler:
“...there is no anti-aging drug...There is no evidence that HGH enhances longevity (there is evidence, in fact, to the contrary in animal studies).
“...the only thing for certain is that its marketers profit from its sale.”
Butler also mentions testosterone supplementation – that for mid-aged men with damaged testes testosterone can strengthen muscles and bones and enhance sexual function, but there is no evidence that is so with elder men. In fact, says Butler, it may put men at greater risk for prostate cancer and perhaps stroke.
Other anti-aging supplements Butler mentions – carnosine, coenzyme Q10 and ginseng need much more study before anything definitive can be said about their effectiveness for the specific qualities their proponents claim.
There are good sections in this chapter on prevention of diabetes, heart disease and cancer and an excellent section on questions to consider if faced with a potentially terminal disease. Among those questions:
What are the chances I can be cured?
What will my quality of life be as a consequence of treatment?
What is my likely life expectancy?
Do I wish a do-not-resuscitate order in place?
With whom do I need to share news of illness?
How will I spend my remaining time?
What has my life meant to me and others?
This is a section I'm marking with a red Post-it to find easily should I ever need it. There is also an example of a Health Care Proxy, something we should all execute while we are healthy so that if we become incapable of making decisions for ourselves, there is someone we trust to do so. Requirements for this document vary by state, so seek consultation where you live.
You may be familiar with Norman Cousins' book, Anatomy of an Illness which recounts his battle with a life-threatening disease using humor – well, belly laughs actually, induced by watching Marx Brothers movies.
In a section titled “Laughter is the Best Medicine,” Dr. Butler recounts a study in which healthy patients watched portions of two movies – one violent and stressful, the other light and funny.
“...the study found that average blood flow increased 22 percent during laughter and decreased 35 percent during mental stress.”
It's good for us to laugh, so maybe today some of you will leave something in the comments that will give the rest of us a chuckle.
Next week, the final chapter of The Longevity Prescription with tips, tricks and strategies for staying with a new healthy living regimen.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Steve Kemp: Long Lost News: Cuban Death Ray Threat