Our Bodies, Ourselves:
Medical Care at Middle Age
by Robin C. Bonner, with Dr. Burton Ginsberg, DO
Awake and in Pain
I woke up this morning and knew before I even moved—or tried to move—that it was going to be one of those days. My lower back plagued me already: The old rheumatoid arthritis was acting up. I bent my knees slightly to relieve the pain. I had slept with my arms over my head, so I could barely move them. Gingerly, I brought them down by my side, but not before fluffing up my pillow and placing it squarely under my neck, which sagged from the lack of support—just one more nuisance. Ahhh…finally, I could snuggle under the covers and concentrate on relaxing all my various creaking body parts before subjecting them to the onslaught of another day.
It’s tough to get old, they say, and oh, are they right. Well, if I feel like this at 50 (and I’m in pretty good shape), what will I feel like at 70? At 80? What a fearful thought. How can I avoid the worst of it? I turned onto my side, then gently sat up—my trick to avoid back strain in trying to get out of bed.
A Doctor Who’s Seen It All
I thought I’d get my family doctor’s opinion on all this. Dr. Burton Ginsberg, DO has been in practice for more than 35 years. He’s a DO, or doctor of osteopathic medicine. Osteopaths treat the whole person—they don’t just address a particular illness. (And like chiropractors, they believe in spinal manipulation, although in my 20 or so years that doctors from this practice have treated me, they’ve used manipulation only a couple of times.) Ginsberg was wont to wax philosophical about the whole thing: “It’s life—the reality. We doctors deal with life and death.” He said it with a jovial air. He’s right: Getting old is part of life. That’s a happy thought.
At around 40 to 50 years, Ginsberg claims, we are still youthful. Around 50, though, the problems begin: arthritis, decline in vision, loss of balance. Our bodies gradually degenerate, resulting in aches and pains, in diverticulitis, and, many times, in midlife crises. According to Ginsberg, “There’s a lot of mental fallout from dealing with reality at this age. The future is behind us—we usually won’t do better than we are doing right now.” Ain’t that the truth!
Ginsberg’s own practice has grown older with him. He hung his shingle, alone, in 1972. He now works with two other doctors (at one time, there were three). About 20 years ago, they moved to the larger offices they occupy today. Sixty to 70% of his patients are 40 to 60 years old, and he stopped accepting newborns as patients a year ago. Ginsberg is planning for the future (4 years ago, the physicians in the practice affiliated themselves with a large multi-specialty group-PMA). In his 60s himself, he has no plans for retirement. “I am honored in that the children of my original patients are now coming to me for care, as adults,” he lets on. “I’m treating multiple generations of patients—it’s very gratifying. People have to believe in you—it’s all about confidence and trust.”
Trust is earned, though. Ginsberg knows this, and he has earned his share. “The most gratifying diagnoses come from minor situations,” he advises. “People come to you with symptoms, you do a history, and frequently you find something that had nothing to do with the original complaint. That’s why it’s important to know your patients. Relationships develop over time. Those who self-diagnose and go directly to a specialist could be doing themselves harm. Many times a specialist will rule out a problem in his or her specialty but will not look beyond their field of expertise.” He told of a patient who was well into his 60s, who ran 10 miles several times a week and marathons often enough. When this man complained of shortness of breath upon climbing stairs, Ginsberg immediately became suspicious of a cardiac issue and ordered cardiac studies. What was a normal problem for a man of his age was a symptom of a life-threatening situation for him. He had heart surgery the next day.
Exercise Is Key
For those of us in middle age, Ginsberg has but one word of advice: “Exercise!” Do it every day. Exercise for flexibility, for strength, and for endurance. Any exercise is beneficial, but practice all three components. Stretch, do Pilates, do yoga. Use weights. Run or bike. Do what works for you—what you like. Listen to your body! This will keep you in shape, physically, mentally, and emotionally. As we leave middle age and move into old age, we’ll lose 10% of our lung capacity. So we want to start out with good capacity. There’s no time like the present to begin. As you age, decrease the weight and do more repetitions.
There’s more, Ginsberg counsels: “Do everything in moderation. Maintain good relationships. Be involved with people—get out socially. Exercise your mind. Continue to learn. Our sense of security with our age comes with always learning something new. If you never painted before, then paint. Or take up some other new activity. My practice keeps me thinking. (Don’t retire early!) We need to show our kids that we can have a good time at this age!” That, we do…
National Institutes of Health: Dr. Ginsberg recommends this site as the most accurate place to seek online lay medical advice.
You: Staying Young: The Owner's Manual for Extending Your Warranty: Drs. Roizen and Oz offer an entertaining yet educational account of the aging process and a step-by-step method to fight it in their new book, from Free Press (Oct. 2007). At the time of this writing, it was No. 6 on the New York Times (advice) best-seller list.
Realage.com: Drs. Roizen and Oz also sponsor this Web site, which compares your calendar age with your real age if you take their test!
Dr. Burton Ginsberg attended LaSalle College (Philadelphia), as well as the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. As a child, he always wanted to be a doctor. His brother and sister practice medicine, as does his son. He couldn’t imagine having any other profession. And, you’d gather that from talking to him for just 2 minutes: He’s interested in the whole person. If your doctor isn’t, or rushes you, or seems not to hear what you’re telling him, you may want to shop around for another doctor. At this time in your life, you want to align yourself with doctor(s) who will take care of you as you move toward the far reaches of middle age—when you may find your trips to the doctor to be more frequent than ever before!