Tips for Aging Well
Routine Medical Appointments
The other day, my Army buddy from 1960 and I were exchanging emails and sharing our daily schedules. Food shopping and visits to the medical community topped our lists including twice a year blood draws with routine checkups, twice a year dermatology visits, once a year to the hearing aid folks, twice a year to the dentist, once a year to the eye doctor, and so it goes.
What was routine and done on the run has become an event, but I persist. Each visit has become a big deal accompanied by varying degrees of anxiety and heart palpitations. My 9-1-1 for anxiety is deep breathing―four seconds in and ten seconds out.
I continue to go to my med appointments because issues pop up with no warning. For example, during a routine visit with my Doctor, he asked me what I thought was my biggest problem. I was ready for that one, and went right to the things that cause pain and anxiety such as a slipped disk in my neck (anterolisthesis), heart palpitations (premature ventricular contractions), and tailor’s bunions on both feet.
He shook his head and said my blood work showed I am low in sodium, adding that sodium is an essential electrolyte that helps maintain the balance of water in and around your cells. He also said it’s important for proper muscle and nerve function and helps maintain stable blood pressure levels. And then, ominously added, this can be serious, while writing a prescription for sodium bicarbonate pills. I dodged another bullet with the help of the salt pills. Thank you, Doctor
This entire episode was a bit strange since most people seem to be contending with too much salt in their diet. My low sodium was only discovered because I fought the urge to stay home rather than have my blood drawn. I have since learned that low sodium or hyponatremia is more common in older adults because we're more likely to take medications or have medical conditions that put us at risk.
That same day as the salt incident, the nurse thanked me for taking my cholesterol and high blood pressure pills, which I thought was a strange thing to say. I asked her why she’d said it and found out that many older people forget or don’t want to take their pills. I didn’t know I had a choice, but will happily continue taking my pills every day.
I don’t know why, but it feels like I’m spending half my life sitting in a dentist chair. I go because I’m vain about having clean, white teeth, but I’m also looking over my shoulder for gum disease (periodontitis) which seems to disproportionately affect seniors.
One reason gum disease is so widespread in seniors is that it's often a painless condition until the advanced stage. If left untreated, gums can begin to pull away from the teeth and form pockets where food particles and plaque may collect. Without treatment, gum disease can destroy the bone that supports teeth causing them to loosen, so, with that in mind, I continue to sit in the chair, but mentally I’m still at home in my happy place.
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