The Encyclopaedia of Health and Aging

Spring 2001 CSANews Issue 38  |  Posted date : Mar 08, 2007.Back to list

To those of us of a certain age, parenthood was accompanied by a well-worn copy of Dr. Spock, with corners turned down at "Infant Crying," "Teething" and "Fever." Now, Evelyne Michaels and Dr. Michael Gordon have compiled a Dr. Spock for seniors.

This guide persuasively encourages you to become your own health advocate. "It assumes that older people can take control of their health and well-being, rather than waiting passively to be "cared for" by others. And, most important, "it's never too late to start."

We don't need to accept such symptoms as pain, depression, fatigue and memory loss as "simply part of getting old." Most conditions can be diagnosed and significantly improved but, even in the final stages of life, there is comfort in knowing about "palliative care options" and current pain management techniques.

I'm particularly impressed with the format of this encyclopaedia; lots of illustrations, photographs, charts and very little medical jargon. It even has a sidebar demystifying the terminology that doctors scrawl on your prescriptions, i.e. BID (take twice a day), TID (take three times a day), Q4hours (every four hours).

The shaded sidebars make the book quickly and easily accessible. I imagine that in many homes, corners will be turned down at page 154, "What to do when a heart attack happens" and, in others, page 130 for "the latest arthritis medications."

I, personally, have already found a reassuring value of the guide. While reading in preparation for this review, one of my dearest friends was diagnosed with breast cancer. In less time than it would take to boot up my computer and get "information overload" on the Internet, I was able to get a concise, informative overview of the symptoms of breast cancer, a description of the tests she was undergoing, and possible treatments. Knowledge does tend to alleviate anxiety for friends and family.

Influenza and bacterial pneumonia can be potentially life-threatening diseases for seniors, so annual flu shots are advised, as well as the one-time vaccination to protect against pneumococcal pneumonia. If you do get the flu, though, ask about the recently developed anti-viral antibiotics. They can shorten your misery and prevent recurrence.

This book deals with psychological, as well as physiological, issues; it addresses such topics as the latest research on Alzheimer's Disease, or "myths and facts about love and sex after age 65." It gives practical advice on something as mundane as what to order when you meet a friend at the doughnut shop, to the very fundamental problems involved in caring for aging relatives. The guide to community support services is invaluable, as is the nursing home checklist.

The segment on the importance of regular exercise will motivate even the most sedentary couch potato. We've already started the "Three-Month Walking Program" in our family. There's a wonderful basic primer on fats and cholesterol, and tips on making wise nutritional choices, i.e. "tickling your taste buds with herbs, spices and lemon juice rather than salt."

Some of the advice is downright refreshing, i.e. "carrying around some extra weight may actually be an advantage when you are older". I immediately thought of our beloved Queen Mum (still going strong at 102). Mind you, it depends on the individual. A few pounds are good for osteoporosis, but bad for folks with arthritic knees or hips.

The credentials of the authors are impeccable. It was written in collaboration with the world-renowned Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care, which has been providing health care to seniors for more than 80 years. Dr. Michael Gordon is head of geriatrics and internal medicine at Baycrest, and Evelyne Michaels is currently editor of a consumer health letter published by the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto.

The Encyclopaedia of Health & Aging is much more than a traditional medical book. It truly is a reassuring guide to enjoying your twilight years, rather than just enduring them. Buy a copy for yourself, and another for a friend.