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Fall 2010

Taking Charge of Your Health

A Guide to Getting the Best Health Care as You Age

Date: October 1, 2010

Taking Charge of Your Health

John R. Burton, MD; William J. Hall, MD
(The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010)

Pioneering Hopkins geriatrician John Burton, 73, and his friend and colleague William Hall, 71, from the University of Rochester School of Medicine, both have aged gracefully while caring for the elderly. In their concise and user-friendly book, they strive to ensure that others in their age bracket manage to do the same.

As members of what Hall aptly describes as the “first generation” of leaders in what has become the field of geriatrics, he and Burton initially thought their book should be written for young physicians in training. Burton and Hall ruefully observe in the book that many physicians are just as prone as their patients to carrying myths about aging around “in their heads”—accepting, for example, the erroneous notions that elderly people can’t exercise or that an older person’s anemia is due simply to age.

While writing the book, however, Burton and Hall concluded that their audience instead should be older adults—readers who, like the patients they still see and their concerned families, are baffled by today’s ever-evolving health care system and sometimes ill-served by physicians who don’t understand the complex, frequently multifaceted issues that caring for the elderly involves. For example, they note that longitudinal studies have shown that “all cases [of anemia] in older people are caused by underlying disease.” They advise their readers to “challenge any health care provider who glibly attributes a new symptom or finding to age alone.”   

In 13 brief chapters, the 157-page, three-part book covers “The Older Patient in Today’s Health Care System,” including the debunking of the prevailing myths about aging patients; “The Health Care System,” including key programs and clinical settings for “we seniors”; and “Managing Your Health,” with advice on medications, nutrition, and exercise.

The complexities of Medicare and Medicaid are explained; ways to select a primary care physician and make the most of appointments with these doctors or specialists are described; insights on selecting assisted living facilities, continuing care retirement communities, nursing homes, or other options are provided.

High-quality primary care is crucial for seniors, Burton and Hall note, and with the growing shortage in primary care physicians assuming crisis proportions as the population ages rapidly, the information in this book would be beneficial for physicians and laypeople alike.

-- Neil A. Grauer