Healthy Aging

How can I stay motivated to keep up the healthy behaviors you advise?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Eat right. Don't smoke. Stay active. Can you give me some motivation to keep up these healthy behaviors?

DEAR READER: I think I get your message. This column frequently presents information from scientific studies about healthy lifestyle. But information alone may not be enough to change behavior -- and it's hard to change behavior, particularly when you enjoy it. Information doesn't equal motivation.

Can anything be done to prevent my mother from experiencing delirium while hospitalized?

DEAR DOCTOR K: The last time my mother was in the hospital, she experienced delirium. Given her age and state of health, it's likely she will be hospitalized again. Is there anything I can do to prevent her from becoming delirious the next time?

DEAR READER: About half of people over 65 experience delirium -- a sudden change in mental status -- during a hospital stay. This troubling experience increases their risk for cognitive impairment and dementia after their release.

Why am I losing muscle as I age?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm in my 60s. Despite exercising regularly, I have been losing muscle as I get older. Why does this happen, and is there anything I can do about it?

DEAR READER: As the years pass, muscle mass generally shrinks and strength declines. It happens to all of us as we age --- even Arnold Schwarzenegger. The key to slowing this process is strength and power training.

Can you recommend nonsurgical treatments to help my face look younger?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm 65, and my face is starting to look old. Can you recommend nonsurgical treatments to take a few years off my face?

DEAR READER: Our faces age along with the rest of us. The difference is that our face is the part of ourselves that we look at most often -- and that others look at most often. Some people accept these changes; others fight them every step of the way. But there's also a middle road for people who prefer to make relatively small tweaks that can make a noticeable difference.

How does physical exercise improve brain health?

DEAR DOCTOR K: You say that physical exercise helps to improve brain health, but it's not obvious to me how that could be. Do researchers understand exactly how exercise helps the brain?

DEAR READER: I understand why that's puzzling. It's easier to see how regular moderate exercise could protect against heart disease, for example. The heart is a muscle, and exercise makes the heart exercise.

What’s considered normal aging when it comes to sex?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My wife and I are in our 70s. Sex is not what it once was. Is there anything "natural" I can do to improve sex? I don't want to take pills. What's normal aging when it comes to sex?

DEAR READER: As a man in the last half of his life, I would like to be able to tell you that nothing changes. However, even in healthy men, sexuality changes over time. It's often a gradual, almost unnoticeable process that usually begins in a man's 40s.

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.