Don’t get old. These are not the golden years. Growing old isn’t for sissies. This is the advice I frequently get from my patients. Aging is an art form that we can master with the right mindset. And over the years, I’ve had the privilege of observing many of my patients’ secrets to graceful aging. In the spirit of this month’s “Women Business Leaders” issue, I thought I’d write about a few of my female patients who’ve left a lasting impression on me. Their names have been changed for patient confidentiality.
One patient I treated early in my career showed me how strong one’s will to live can be. Lilly was in her late 80s and took care of her 50-year-old daughter, who was living with Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease, which is common in patients with this condition. Lilly had an ailing body, but never complained about being short of breath from heart failure, or about having joint or muscle pain from daily chores. She didn’t sleep well at night because her daughter made multiple trips to the bathroom, but she never complained, or asked for a sleep aid. Lilly had one request when she came for her appointments: to be healthy enough to care for her daughter. As she wished, Lilly outlived her daughter by several months.
Having a purpose in life affects how you view your health, and it impacts how you perceive physical ailments as well as limitations. When you have a strong purpose, your health becomes an essential tool in accomplishing that goal. Lilly’s experience shows that without a purpose, your health can deteriorate rapidly. I sometimes see this in a patient whose identity is heavily based on responsibilities as a wife, mother, daughter, or career woman. When you lose a loved one, or a job, it can have a negative impact on your health.
Dramatic changes in your life can lead to a positive impact on your health. This was the case for another patient, Eve, who was mourning the loss of her husband. When I met her, she was overweight and living with diabetes. She took her medications regularly, and promised to be more careful with her diet, but explained she couldn’t exercise because her knees and back hurt. To her surprise, she was later diagnosed with heart failure and told she might need surgery, but Eve was high risk because of her weight. The diagnosis prompted her to take action. Six months later, she lost 30 pounds and was going to the gym five days a week. Five years later, Eve is holding her head up high, smiles more and is completely off all diabetic medication. Sometimes, a health crisis rattles your foundation, and gives you the motivation to make the drastic changes to improve your health. As I watch my patients celebrate milestone birthdays, I notice that it’s not always about the food your eating or the supplements you’re taking, it’s often about your approach to life.
Last week, I saw a 92-year-old woman who’d been battling a type of lymphoma, which is slow growing. Though the medication she is taking to treat this condition leaves her fatigued, she lives independently, still drives and has an infectious smile. Her only complaint that day was worrying about her money running out. She wasn’t sure if she would have the funds to move to an assisted living facility when the time came. She emphasized how happy she is with her life and that she’s ready for the end, but still has a few things to accomplish.
Having a purpose and a positive attitude, along with daily exercise and sensible eating habits, are essential to graceful aging. It’s mind over matter. My patients continue to remind me that physical health is a manifestation of emotional health.
Rajina Ranadive, M.D., is a board certified internal medicine physician with the Annadel Medical Group. She is also the medical director of the Petaluma Post-Acute Rehab. She can be reached at (707) 763-0802.
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