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Not So Golden Years: Health

Chronic diseases and injuries can have a major impact on quality of life. Some seniors aren't content to simply cope.
A common concern for seniors is deteriorating health. Chronic diseases and injuries can have a major impact on quality of life. Some seniors aren't content to simply cope.

Lee Harris tries to stay active, playing Wii bowling with her friends at the Broome West Senior Center. But following gall bladder surgery, she walks with a cane and has trouble bending over.

"Well, I can't cook anymore because I can't carry water. I can't carry my lunch because it's a tray and I don't feel comfortable carrying it," said Harris.

Her husband John is in a similar predicament. His bad back forced him to give up fly fishing and his weekly routine cooking omelets at the center.

"I pretty much have pain continuously," said Harris. "And my back bothers me a lot. I have to regulate my activities, my standing."

While aches and pains have always been a part of growing old, our longer life span has increased the cases of Alzheimer's disease and dementia. And chronic ailments like heart disease, diabetes and arthritis can take a toll both physically and mentally. Dr. Madhukar Bhoomireddi of Lourdes Hospital specializes in geriatric medicine.

"There's a feeling that if you have to depend on someone, its an uncomfortable feeling. It might be embarrassing. People want to be independent," said Dr. Bhoomireddi.

Dr. Bhoomireddi recommends the traditional preventative steps: reasonable exercise, a good diet and regular doctor visits. But he also suggests that sometimes drugs with harsh side effects can be dialed back if it makes the patient feel better in the short term.

"It's not enough to keep people living longer. We also need to respect the quality of life and how they would want to live."

Bhoomireddi says for spouses, the role of caretaker can be an added burden. Not just the additional work, but the anxiety of feeling responsible for the other's well-being. The Harris's draw strength from one another, although they're not joined at the hip. Each has their own interests: John plays mandolin in a band and Lee volunteers at their church. Lee doesn't want to be excluded out of sympathy.

"I don't want anybody to say that you are disabled and you're not allowed to do something. Because I love to do and they did that for awhile," said Harris.

Lee says she feels she lost a year of her life to recovering from gall bladder surgery. And while she may never be able to do all the things she once did again, she's eager to get back out and do what she can.

The Broome County Office for Aging operates a senior resource line to connect the elderly, their family and caregivers with services available in our community. It can be reached at (607) 778-2411.

This Friday, NewsChannel 34, in cooperation with the Office for Aging, will host a live phone bank to also refer local seniors to programs and services in our area.
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