Healthy Aging

How can I tell if my complaints are a consequence of aging or an actual problem?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Every time I complain about a new medical issue, my husband says, "You're 84. What do you expect?" How do I know if my complaints are just a consequence of aging or if there's an actual problem?

DEAR READER: I'm not 84, but I ask myself that question regularly. You don't have to be a doctor to understand that new symptoms develop as we age. But some changes aren't a normal part of the aging process. I'll discuss some common age-related health changes, as well as changes that suggest there might be a problem.

Are there any natural remedies for hot flashes?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm afraid to take hormone therapy for my menopausal hot flashes. Are there any natural remedies that work?

DEAR READER: Natural remedies can help for hot flashes, but hormone therapy is helpful more often. For that reason, I'll come back to the pluses and minuses of hormone therapy after answering your question.

Can growth hormone help fight the effects of aging?

DEAR DOCTOR K: A friend of mine who is in her 70s is getting growth hormone shots. She says it fights aging. I'm dubious that anything can fight aging and worry about side effects. Am I just old-fashioned?

DEAR READER: Well, you certainly are right to ask these questions. If there was a treatment that could slow aging and was risk-free, I guess we'd all take it.

What is executive function?

DEAR DOCTOR K: An aging friend was told he has problems with "executive function." So, of course, I'm wondering what that is, if I also could have that problem, and what can be done about it. Could you explain?

DEAR READER: Executive function refers to a set of mental attributes required to make choices, plan, initiate action and inhibit impulses. While "executive function" is a term used to describe attributes of business executives, it applies to everyone.

Should I change my foot care routine as I get older?

DEAR DOCTOR K: As I've entered my 60s, I've noticed that my toenails are thicker and the skin on my feet is drier. Should I change my foot care routine?

DEAR READER: Just like the rest of your body, your feet change with age. By age 50, you may have lost nearly half of the fatty padding on the soles of your feet. To compensate, you may want to add over-the-counter cushioning inserts to your shoes for additional padding.

What can we do to ease my mother’s transition to assisted living?

DEAR DOCTOR K: We've finally convinced my mother to move to an assisted living facility. After spending the past five decades in her current house, she is very nervous about the move. What can we, and she, do to make the transition easier?

DEAR READER: Assisted living facilities are designed for people who can't live on their own because they need help with the tasks of everyday living. The facilities generally provide meals, help with taking medication, housekeeping, laundry and activities. They are not meant for people who need round-the-clock nursing care.

Can brain stimulation devices help improve memory and thinking?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I saw an ad for something called a "tDCS brain-stimulating device." It supposedly helps improve memory and thinking. Is it worth a try?

DEAR READER: Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) transmits a current into the brain through electrodes (little metal plates) on the forehead or scalp. The current is weak; it comes from a 9-volt battery (the size used in a smoke detector). People who undergo tDCS may feel their scalp tingle and hear a humming noise. Doctors can control whether the current activates -- or suppresses -- the neurons in your brain that lie beneath the electrodes.

How can I stay as active as possible as I get older?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm in my 80s, and I've lost some mobility over the years. How can I continue to stay as active as possible?

DEAR READER: Most of us take for granted the stamina, strength, balance, coordination and range of motion needed to perform even simple acts such as getting out of bed, heading down the stairs and walking around the block. But when we lose these basic skills, we begin to understand how much of living well relies on being able to move.

Why is it so important we stay hydrated?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm in my 80s. At my last checkup, my doctor emphasized how important it is to stay hydrated. Can you explain why?

DEAR READER: Drinking fluids is crucial to staying healthy and maintaining the function of every system in your body. That includes your heart, brain and muscles. Among other things, fluids carry nutrients to your cells. They flush urine and bowel movements, both of which contain body wastes, out of your body. If you don't drink enough fluids, you run the risk of dehydration.