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Doctors to discuss health, aging

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Health care isn't much different for senior citizens than it is for younger adults. Maintaining good health always includes a balanced diet, exercise and drinking plenty of fluids.

However, there are some common health problems that afflict senior citizens, and when caught early and properly diagnosed, more of them can be treated today than ever before, said Dr. Edwin Genebach, a physician and director of the Intermountain Health Care senior clinic at St. Joseph's Villa in Salt Lake City.

Genebach and Todd Manwaring, a clinical social worker at LDS Hospital, will be featured on today's Deseret News/IHC Health Hotline. From 10 a.m. to noon, they'll answer phoned-in questions about medical, emotional and physical care for senior citizens.

One of the most common diseases to afflict senior citizens is diabetes, as well as high blood pressure and heart problems, but there are routine health issues many seniors don't always think about, such as nutrition.

Proper diet is very important, Genebach said, especially for elderly people who aren't able to buy or prepare foods to meet their nutritional needs.

Families should be a resource for the seniors who need help preparing nutritional meals, he said. And if there aren't family members who can help, there are several community organizations such as Meals on Wheels that can provide a balanced meal.

As far as vitamins and supplements, Genebach said all senior citizens should take at least one multivitamin daily. Older women often have problems with osteoporosis and should take calcium and vitamin D supplements. Older men can benefit from those supplements as well.

Another disease senior citizens may face is Alzheimer's. Common signs are memory loss and disorientation, but family members should also be aware of behavioral changes, unusual agitation or depression and dementia, Genebach said.

Alzheimer's is a gradual disease, he said. If senior citizens are experiencing sudden changes in mental status or delirium, it is often due to an infection or reaction to medication. These disorders can be treated and corrected.

Depression is common among the elderly, Genebach said. There are many contributing factors. Loneliness, chronic disease and major life changes are just a few.

"The most important thing about dealing with depression is to treat it adequately," Genebach said. Depending on the case, some seniors need to be treated with anti-depressants and others need counseling. But if it goes untreated, it will often be a recurring problem.

"It's important to keep proper circulation in the home. If seniors are prone to being cold, I suggest layering clothing rather than turning on the heat or closing off the house," he said.

Maintaining good health requires annual exams. Annual physicals, eye and hearing exams will cut down on many problems senior citizens have, Genebach said.

"Dizziness is often related to eyesight, and hearing loss sometimes affects seniors' balance," Genebach said. "It's important for seniors to know that it's something we can quite often help them with."

One type of exam seniors tend to forget about as they get older is dental upkeep. "Even if they don't have teeth, it's important to check the gums annually for diseases," he said.

Cancer screenings are still important for seniors. Women should be getting mammograms up to age 80, Genebach said. And men should be having prostate checks.

Osteoporosis screenings are available at health fairs and are covered by Medicare on an annual basis, he said.

E-mail: jcheney@desnews.com