Bob Meade - Getting Old for Dummies. . . avoiding the alternative

  • Published in Columns

Hardly any young person wants to get old. Hardly any young person wants the alternative to not getting old.

It seems like getting old can be likened to getting in your car on a cold morning and the windshield is all fogged up and you can't see what's in front of you. You can only look in your rear view or side view mirror and see what's behind you. Like life, you don't know what's ahead but you know what you left behind. So, if you want to go forward, to get old, think of the things you might have to do to help you make the trip . . . to get your life windshield cleared.

Let me pause for a moment to tell you I am not a physician, have had no medical training, was not great in Biology class, but have been a thankful recipient of a significant number of medical procedures that have allowed me to continue on the road ahead. What follows are a few suggestions emanating from those experiences, mainly to encourage you to start early in life to get regular physical check-ups, so that over time, your primary care physician (PCP) can get a better look at how your body is handling the aging process. (If you don't have a PCP, LRGH's Healthlink department maintains a list of physicians who are accepting new patients. They can be reached at 527-7171.)

When you look in your rear view mirror, were you ever or are you now a smoker? Over the years have you gotten a little pudgy and try to avoid stepping on a scale? Have you and do you enjoy a frequent cheeseburger and fries? And a milkshake? Rate yourself on a healthy diet scale. This is not meant as any sort of indictment, it's to point out some of the things that can contribute to a build-up of plaque in our arteries. As we age, fatty/plaque buildup may cause a narrowing of the arteries; called stenosis. As the build-up increases, the odds of part of the plaque breaking off and causing a stroke also increases. According to Stroke Center.Org, approximately 795,000 strokes occur in this country each year, with about 140,000 being fatal. Strokes are the third leading cause of death in the United States. About 25 percent of strokes occur in people under age 65. There are a number of things that can cause a stroke but at the top of the list are high blood pressure and arterial blockages. Thankfully, there are a number medicines, technologies and surgical procedures that are available to help reduce those numbers significantly. Read on . . .

Your PCP can easily determine whether or not you have high blood pressure and, if you do, he or she will prescribe a medicine designed to lower the pressure and bring it under control. After that, the doctor will continue to monitor your blood pressure to ensure the medicine's effectiveness. A good step towards avoiding a stroke.

When your PCP gives you your annual physical, in addition to checking your blood pressure, he or she will listen to your blood flow. From my experience, normally, if an artery is relatively clear, with each beat of our heart it sounds like the blood goes plop, plop, plop. However, if there is a build-up of plaque in the artery, it may sound like bzzz, bzzz, bzzz, as the blood tries to get through the narrowed artery. That sound is called a "Bruit". (Bruit (English / ˈ b r uː i /; from French, "noise", or vascular murmur, is the abnormal sound generated by turbulent flow of blood in an artery) If the physician detects a bruit, he or she will probably ask that you have an ultra-sound test to get a better look at your carotid arteries. That test does not take much time, is painless and gives the doctor a comprehensive report on the amount of blockage, if any, in the left and right carotid arteries. Those arteries run up through the neck and feed blood into your face and your brain. Your PCP may share the results of the test with a vascular surgeon specialist to determine if surgery should be performed or if there should be continuing follow-up to see if the condition worsens.

If the arterial blockage has not reached a significant level, the surgeon may recommend subsequent ultra-sound tests be performed to keep track of the blockage. If at some point the blockage has increased, surgery to remove the plaque may be recommended. Each of us is different in any number of ways and how each of us progresses will be different. Only by having follow-up testing and observations can the physician/surgeon determine what next steps may be needed.

My experiences with these procedures have been very positive and have allowed me to continue the aging process better than I ever would have thought. Give it a try . . . get the fog off your windshield.

(Bob Meade is a Laconia resident. He may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)