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.

The next time you call your doctor for an appointment, don’t be surprised if you’re offered a visit with a nurse practitioner. As the number of Americans over age 65 doubles from 2,000 to 2,030, and the current physician shortage intensifies, medical practices are employing nurse practitioners (NPs) to help fill the gaps and ensure adequate access to care.

Did you know that an overnight hospital stay may be characterized by Medicare in two very distinct and different ways? Your stay may be classified as observation or admission, even though in both cases, you are physically occupying the very same hospital bed and receiving the very same care.

A holistic approach to health and wellness is particularly important for seniors; every diagnosis and treatment should consider the whole individual and be a part of a comprehensive plan. This came to mind recently when I read a report by researchers from the University of Toronto about the potential risks associated with starting high blood pressure medicine.

Matt Narrett, M.D., is chief medical officer for Erickson Living and leads the medical team at all Erickson Living communities. He received his medical degree from Harvard Medical School and has been providing care for seniors for over three decades. The world of health care is changing, and these changes have affected the doctor-patient relationship.