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Healthy Aging: A Simple Path?

We all aspire to a healthy old age, and many of us pursue the fountain of youth through expensive and doubtful measures. But Stanford geriatrician Mehrdad Ayati believes that healthy aging can be a much simpler process. In his book, “Paths to Healthy Aging,” he describes practical ways in which we can achieve a healthier and happier life in later years.

Ayati, who has treated geriatric patients at both Stanford Medical Center and Palo Alto’s VA hospital, specializes in preventive care. His book grew out of his belief that healthy lifestyle choices can be as important as the latest medical interventions in preventing or treating everything from high blood pressure to depression. Those lifestyle choices include: regular exercise, social involvement, a balanced diet, and enjoyable activities.

Ayati’s wife, Dr. Arezou Azarani, co-wrote the book. She is the founder and CEO of Protogen Consulting, which focuses on health and life sciences, and received a Ph.D. in Physiology from McGill University.

A recent article in the San Jose Mercury News, Healthy Aging Made Simple, summarizes several tips offered by Ayati to promote healthy aging. To summarize:

  • Stay away from diets that are too strict or exercise routines that are too vigorous – you are less likely to stick with them.

  • Don’t rely on vitamins or nutritional supplements unless ordered by your physician. Following a balanced diet is the best way to get all needed nutrients.

  • Reduce your intake of instant, frozen, or canned foods, along with caffeine and alcohol.

  • Get involved! Enroll in a class or take up a new hobby that will challenge you physically and/or mentally.

  • Spend time with individuals of various ages, not just other seniors.

  • Develop and maintain a strong network of friends.

  • Locate a geriatrician. While you won’t need one often, such a specialist can help you set up a comprehensive preventive health plan.

In addition to encouraging healthy preventive measures, Ayati warns against the dangers of overprescribing of medications for seniors. He notes that older adults are the largest consumers of both prescription and over-the-counter medications, and more than 40% of seniors take at least five medications. Overmedication puts individuals at risk for serious drug interactions, leading to hospitalization or even death.

Ayati particularly cautions against the prescription medication risk known as Drug Cascade Syndrome. He notes that side effects of medications are sometimes misread as symptoms of a medical condition, resulting in the prescribing of additional medications. A domino or “cascade” effect can occur if the new medication triggers further side effects, leading to additional drug prescriptions. Whatever the cause, overprescribing of medication leads to 4.5 million visits to ERs and doctors’ offices each year.

Designed as an easy-to-follow workbook, Paths to Healthy Aging describes current research and offers both common sense advice and actual treatment experiences. Each chapter covers a critical topic: nutrition, mental health, physical health, medication, and physician selection. Readers of any age can learn something that will help them along their own paths to healthy aging.

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