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Drexel Health Q&A Series: Healthy Aging

My doctor told me I have high blood pressure and should take medication. But I feel just fine without the medication, so why should I take it?

It is for a good reason that high blood pressure's nickname is "the silent killer." Up to two thirds of Americans over age 60 have high blood pressure (also known as hypertension), making it the single most common chronic medical illness in this age group. Most people with high blood pressure experience no symptoms at all. However, over time, high blood pressure quietly causes organ damage, which can result in heart attacks, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, and congestive heart failure. Treating high blood pressure has been shown to decrease these risks. The method in which it is treated, which includes medication, diet, and exercise, should be individualized for each patient and you should work with your doctor on a plan that is right for you.

I'm concerned about my father's eating habits. He's in his 70s and doesn't seem to have much of an appetite anymore. I've recently found out he's been skipping meals. Should I be worried?


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I would encourage a discussion with your father's primary care provider, as there can be a number of common social, psychological or physiologic issues contributing to decline in food intake in the elderly. Chronic illness or age-related changes in taste, dental status, and sensation of stomach fullness can diminish the desire to eat. Many medications can affect the mouth and gastrointestinal system and exacerbate the lack of appetite, so there is a possibility that a change in medical regimen may help. His physician may also want to explore whether depression or loneliness are contributing factors, especially if he lives alone.

My 72-year-old husband has had dizzy spells in recent months. He's even fallen twice. He says it's no big deal, but I'm worried. What's wrong with him?

A fall is the most common event threatening the independence of older adults, so you're right to be worried. Dizziness is a common cause of falls. Reasons for feeling dizzy can be serious — such as an irregular heartbeat. Often, feeling dizzy is due to a combination of factors, such as medication side effects or dehydration. Regardless, falls are a serious matter that can have catastrophic consequences. Your husband should see a doctor right away.

My mom's become more and more forgetful over the past few years. We used to joke that it was old age, but now I'm worried it could be Alzheimer's. How do we know, and is there a way to keep it from getting worse?

Mild memory loss is normal as we age. The number of brain cells we have peaks in our teens, and from that point on, we are losing brain cells. However, memory loss is not normal if it is affecting day-to-day functioning. The tell-tale signs of Alzheimer's disease include confusion with time and place, difficulty completing familiar tasks, and trouble forming new memories. The problem starts slowly and progresses over the years, until all aspects of thinking and behavior are involved. If you feel your mother's memory loss is an issue, she should see her family physician or a neurologist for a memory work-up. This may include neurological and physical exams, MRIs, and blood tests. There is potential that the memory loss is due to a reversible cause, such as a B12 deficiency, which can be easily addressed. If it's determined to be a result of Alzheimer's disease, there are a variety of interventions available to help with symptoms.

Related Drexel Doctors

Steven L. Zinn, MD

Steven L. Zinn, MD, is board certified in internal medicine, with added qualification in geriatric medicine. He is an assistant professor in the Department of Family, Community, and Preventive Medicine at Drexel University College of Medicine. He sees patients in Manayunk, where he specializes in primary care, chronic illness management, and geriatric medicine.

B. Brent Simmons, MD

B. Brent Simmons, MD, is board certified in family medicine, geriatric medicine, and hospice and palliative medicine. He is an associate professor in the Department of Family, Community, and Preventive Medicine at Drexel University College of Medicine. His clinical interests include geriatrics and end-of-life care. He sees patients in Manayunk.

The information on these pages is provided for general information only and should not be used for diagnosis or treatment, or as a substitute for consultation with a physician or health care professional. If you have specific questions or concerns about your health, you should consult your health care professional.

The images being used are for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted is a model.

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