One of the greatest advances in medicine over the past thirty years has been in the care of progressive and terminal illness. These improvements have occurred largely because health care providers have come to learn the importance of listening and honoring patients’ needs and preferences.

In last month’s column, I wrote about the benefits of exercise specifically with regard to better brain health and the prevention of cognitive impairment. Since that time, some very encouraging news has come out about the incidence of not only dementia but also heart attack and stroke. 

Many of us have known or cared for loved ones suffering from memory loss and its associated, sometimes devastating, loss of function and independence. Because of this, we are all highly motivated to find a way to prevent and treat memory impairment, and enormous effort and study has been directed toward finding a cure.

It’s that time of year again—time to roll up our sleeves and beat the flu. As you know, influenza is a serious viral infection that can cause fever, cough, and pneumonia. The vaccine is a wonderful opportunity to protect yourself with minimal risk. 

Maintaining our independence and making personal health care decisions are among our most cherished freedoms. For the majority of our lives we take this ability for granted, but what if we suffer injury or illness and cannot represent ourselves? How can we ensure that our wishes will be followed? 

Maintaining our independence is the number one priority for all age groups and a primary way we achieve this is through owning and driving a car. While motor vehicles are a wonderful boon to us all and part of the American dream, they also come with risk and responsibility. 

As the weather warms up, our thoughts turn to travel. As you plan your trip, especially one that requires a plane ride, you may wonder if you can tolerate the logistics of air travel—leaving home, getting to the airport, arriving at the gate,  having an uneventful flight, and safely making it to your destination.

Seniors are well aware of the changes that occur in certain senses as they age—hearing and vision in particular, which were the topics of my two previous columns. But not everyone thinks about how aging-related changes in taste and smell can also affect health and quality of life. 

Of the five special senses—taste, touch, smell, hearing, and vision—it is vision that we most heavily rely and depend upon. This is truer than ever with visual media, computers, and smartphones playing a more dominant role in our lives every day. A loss of vision can have a profound impact on our well-being and result in a decline in our physical, social, and emotional health.

Verbal communication is a fundamental and meaningful part of our everyday lives. When it is compromised by difficulty with hearing, we experience frustration and sometimes even anger and isolation.

If I had to choose one single attribute that is fundamental to aging, well, it would be resiliency.

Difficulty falling asleep and getting a good night's rest is one of the most common medical complaints and is often referred to as insomnia. As much as 35% to 50% of adults report difficulty with sleep and the numbers are even more dramatic for seniors. In one study, 57% of older Americans complained of sleep difficulties and only 12% actually reported normal sleep.