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7 Health Challenges of Aging

Experts explain how to prepare for the health issues people face as they age.

Teeth

The good news is that you'll probably keep your own teeth, and implants and bleaching can make your teeth look years younger than the rest of your body. Only about 25% of people over age 60 wear dentures today.

"I practice in Framingham, Minn., a small, middle-class town, and I haven't done dentures in five years," says Kimberly Harms, DDS, consumer advisor for the American Dental Association. "That's because of a lifetime of good dental health and diet. Unfortunately, the people who haven't had a lifetime of good health care and healthy practices are at risk for losing their teeth."

She advises brushing twice a day with fluoridated toothpaste, flossing daily to remove plaque, and visiting your dentist regularly.

Mental Health: Memory and Emotional Well-being

Forget what you think you know about memory loss and old age. It is not inevitable. So why do so many people say, "My memory isn't what it used to be," or "I'm having a senior moment?" Stress, anxiety, and mental overload are most likely responsible. "Stop multitasking," says Brangman, who is professor and division chief and geriatric medicine director at the Central New York Alzheimer's Disease Center, SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, N.Y. "Our brains are made for us to do one thing at a time. Multitasking overloads the brain so people aren't remembering things and get concerned they're having memory problems."

Doing the things that keep your heart healthy will also keep your brain healthy. "The same blood vessels that go to the heart branch off and go to the brain. Exercise, control your blood pressure, quit smoking, and if you have diabetes, keep it under control."

She says the evidence of alcohol's benefits is mixed. "Hard alcohol seems to be of no benefit, but wine may be. Moderation is the key."

Staying mentally active is as important as staying physically active, says Raymond L. Crowel, PsyD, vice president for mental health and substance abuse services for Mental Health America in Alexandria, Va. (The organization was formerly known as the National Mental Health Association.) Join a book club, stay up on current events, engage in stimulating conversations, and do crossword puzzles. "The new rage is Sudoku puzzles. They're absorbing and require a tremendous amount of concentration, and there's a lot of satisfaction in getting it right."

One of the perplexing problems of aging is Alzheimer's disease. About 3% of men and women aged 65 to 74 have Alzheimer's disease, and nearly half of those aged 85 and older may have the disease. "We're not aware of anything people can do to prevent Alzheimer's or dementia, but we're learning new things about the brain every day," Crowel tells WebMD.

Among all age groups, depression is often underdiagnosed and untreated. Many people mistakenly believe that depression is a natural condition of old age. Of the nearly 35 million Americans aged 65 and older, an estimated 2 million have a depressive illness and 5 million more may have depressive symptoms that fall short of meeting full diagnostic criteria.

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