- The lifestyle things your doctor tells you to do are usually far more impactful on your health than any drug, test, or procedure they could ever prescribe or order. Gerontologists often talk about “effective size”, i.e., the precise numerical impact that a specific medical intervention has on health. It turns out that the impact of things like exercise and smoking cessation can dwarf the health effects of many medications and other things doctors do. And, by the way, there are no side effects to boot.
- Get a Quarterback, and don’t be duped into thinking having a doc for each body part is always a good thing. As we get older, many people cling to the belief that seeing a superspecialist for each organ is the pinnacle of care. Besides being inconvenient, it can be downright dangerous when one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing or know your complete medical history. You need a coordinating and invested primary care physician!
- As you get older, more can be less, and less can be more We should all be roaring ahead and supersizing our life experience, but in medical care, more testing, screening, procedures, and medication can expose you to side effects and other misadventures. Understand the rationale, risks, and benefits of any medication, test, or procedure that’s being suggested to you.
- Medications are like a rifle: They can “kick” as well as “shoot”. Yes, there are miracle medications for many conditions that are life-changing, but too many medications can interact with one another and cause serious problems. Some estimates suggest that up to 20% of hospital admissions in older adults are related to medication problems.
- The hospital is no place for sick people. While sometimes there is no choice, the hospital is home to a bevy of dangers ranging from forced immobility to facility-related infections. Ask if your problem can be handled as an outpatient, and if it can’t, don’t overstay your welcome!
Dr. Mark Lachs is a Professor of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, Director of Geriatrics for the New York Presbyterian Health Care System and author of Treat Me Not My Age.