Q: My grandmother has a lot of health problems that make it difficult for her to enjoy life. It makes me wonder if all the fancy drugs and treatments she takes to keep her going are really worth it. We want her around as long as possible, but we’d like her to be happier. Any suggestions?
Sally Q., Bethesda, Maryland
A: Yes, we do have some suggestions, and we understand where you’re coming from. Life expectancy in the U.S. today is at an all-time high of around 76 for men and 81 for women; in Canada it’s 80 for men and 84 for women. And a lot of folks are living much longer than that: Around 55,000 folks in the U.S. are 100 or older, an almost a 66 percent increase since 1980.
In part, the increased longevity results from better prevention of heart-disease-related deaths and of some cancers, such as breast and prostate cancer. These cancers, along with some other potentially fatal diseases, are now often considered chronic conditions to be managed. Plus, we have effective ways to repair and replace arthritis-damaged joints so that people can stay active longer.
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But according to new data from The Global Burden of Disease Study, while people are living longer, they often have to contend with troubling disabilities or illnesses. And that’s as true in the U.S. as anywhere. HEALTHY life expectancy is only 67 for guys and 72 for gals. And the main causes of this discrepancy are obesity, smoking, dietary risks and alcohol.
We don’t know what your grandmother’s specific health issues are, but we do know that the elderly can reap huge health benefits from upgrading their diet, getting more physical activity, learning to manage stress and taking their medications as prescribed. Ask if you can come along to her next doctor’s appointment, and talk with her and her doc about these issues. And remember, you have her DNA, so there’s a good chance you’ll live even longer. Make sure you get the exercise and the good diet you need for a longer, healthy life, too!
Q: I just got out of the hospital, where I had a terrible experience with post-op pain. They didn’t keep me pain-free, and I was constantly in agony. I know that’s not good medicine, but how could I have made them provide better pain control?
Ramos V., Los Angeles
A: Four years ago, the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems Survey revealed that somewhere between one in three and one in four hospital patients don’t get the pain management they want. We’re sorry you were one of them.
There’s no reason to ever be in severe pain when you’re in the hospital post-op. Pain management is essential for proper wound healing, and many larger metropolitan medical centers are in the vanguard of improved pain management. Dr. Mike’s Cleveland Clinic has its own (very large) department of pain management, and Dr. Oz’s New York Presbyterian has two pain management centers. But pain management is tricky business, and there isn’t a universal pain management strategy that’s part of our health-care system.
As a patient, you have what’s called the right of autonomy, or self-determination; that means you have the right to request and/or refuse any treatments you believe will help manage your pain. So, for any future operations you or your family may have:
• Before any surgery, talk to your surgeon and anesthesiologist about your pain management concerns both in and out of the hospital.
• Arrange for a pain management specialist to see you in your hospital room. He or she can authorize a solution that eases your pain and makes sure the staff follows the instructions.
• Research the hospital and talk to everyone you know about the hospital’s pain management reputation.
• Have at-home pain medications waiting for you before you leave the hospital so the transition from hospital to home is as pain-free as possible.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at firstname.lastname@example.org.