Heart Health

A New Twist on the New Year’s Resolution

December 28, 2018

A New Twist on the New Year’s Resolution

It’s that time of year again.  Swear off the sweets, buy the latest diet books, check out the nearest gyms, invest in a new elliptical for the basement.  You know the story.  About a thousand years ago some cruel trickster came up with the concept of the New Year’s resolution in an attempt to forever doom mankind to one week of healthy living and 51 weeks of guilt every year.  The tradition has been propagated by clever marketing geniuses employed by the massive exercise-diet-industrial complex.  Even now, in some dimly-lit, smoky room on Madison Avenue, the evil plotters are crowding around the latest glossy lay-out of Women’s Health or O magazine, looking for ways to take advantage of all of us who don’t have the abs of a swimsuit model but who’d desperately love to.  Where can you turn for advice on how to interrupt the cycle of making and breaking resolutions?

Well, don’t look to me—I’m all out of ideas.  I gave you every bit of wisdom my feeble brain contains in last year’s New Year’s blog.  For those of you optimistic souls who think this year will be any different feel free to click on this link and check out last years’ recommendations.

For the rest of you, why not try something else?  If you can’t change yourself, what about trying to change someone else?  I know, I know.  You already tried this on your spouse, but despite your gentle persuasion he still leaves his socks on the floor and would rather watch football than go Ugg shopping with you.

No, I’m not talking about sending your spouse off to obedience school.  My recommendation this year is considerably simpler than trying to train someone to put the toilet seat down:

Take a look at your family members, particularly your parents and anyone over 50 years of age, and encourage them to stay up to date with their doctor visits and medical screening.

I’ll admit this kind of New Year’s resolution doesn’t sound too glamorous, but I assure you there’s no better way to show your love for a family member than to encourage them to get a check-up even if they’re feeling spry and fit.

The typical offender is the healthy grandfather who brags that he’s never spent a night in the hospital or the grandmother who is on no medication.  Some of these people are truly blessed and will live out a healthy life—thumbing their perpetually-youthful noses at the medical establishment—until they die peacefully in their sleep at the age of 105.  Many, however, are on no medications simply because they’ve never had their underlying problems diagnosed.  Of course I never see these people until their lack of healthcare catches up to them and they meet me on the way from the ER to the cath lab.

Take the issue of high blood pressure, for example.  According to the National Institutes of Health, about a quarter of Americans over the age of 18 have hypertension, and of those people about a third don’t even know they have it.  Even those with an established diagnosis aren’t where they need to be—only 35% of patients with known hypertension are treated to an optimal level.  Start applying these statistics to your loved ones and you’ll quickly realize that there’s a good chance one (or more) of your relatives isn’t getting the kind of care they should.  We already know that reducing blood pressure goes a long way to limit the risk of stroke, something even apparently healthy people can fall victim to.  Once you realize that your New Year’s resolution will actually save Aunt Ethel from suffering a debilitating stroke your resolution starts to seem a little more worthwhile than just another trial membership at the local gym.

What does the typical elderly adult need in the way of health screening?  The guidelines for both women and men are easily located on the web, but to make this more interesting let’s use a real case to illustrate what would be needed.

Your uncle Mort just turned 65 and for his New Year’s resolution he’s vowed to quit smoking like he’s done every year since Richard Nixon was in office.  Mort’s worked all his life as a farmer and brags that he’s still as fit as he was as a high school linebacker. He has no regular doctor since he’s never really had any health problems other than the occasional cold or flu.  A diet of red meat and Runzas has not been good to Mort’s waistline but as long as he can still fit into his Dickies he doesn’t seem to mind.

While Uncle Mort may think his health is pristine he is now in the age range where bad things start to creep up.  If you can convince him of the need to go see a doctor here’s what he could feasibly expect:

  • A full physical exam
  • Blood pressure measurement to screen for hypertension
  • Blood testing for cholesterol and diabetes
  • Comprehensive vision and hearing exams
  • Immunizations, including flu and pneumonia vaccines
  • Vaccine for Herpes zoster to prevent shingles
  • Colonoscopy to screen for colon cancer
  • Abdominal ultrasound to screen for aortic aneurysm
  • Possible screening for prostate cancer
  • A stern lecture about the need to stop smoking, improve his diet, and engage in aerobic exercise

This list is based on current screening guidelines and should be covered by Mort’s insurance carrier.  If you take an overweight 65-year-old smoker and run him through this battery of tests you will likely find numerous problems that need to be addressed and which probably should have been detected years earlier.  You may also get him on the road to avoiding many of the medical issues elderly patients are frequently plagued with.  Most of the problems I see on a daily basis could have been prevented with simple screening and lifestyle modification.

So, for your resolution this year, try something a little different than the usual attempt to remake your body to look like a runway waif.  Take a few minutes to talk to your spouse, parents, siblings and friends about getting in for a routine check-up.  And while you may never get the satisfaction of a floor free of dirty stockings you’ll at least know you made in important impact in someone’s life.

Eric Van De Graaff, MD

Eric Van De Graaff, MD is a Heart & Vascular Specialists at CHI Health Clinic.

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