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On Aging

Attitude on Plastic Surgery Changing

February 17, 1985| the UCLA/USC Long Term Care Gerontology Center

Question: I am 70 years old and have a lump on my nose that has bothered me for years. I recently decided to have plastic surgery to correct the condition. My children think I'm crazy and say I shouldn't go ahead. What do you think?

Answer: Times are changing and increasing numbers of older people are having plastic surgery. Attitudes about aging are shifting and many feel it's never too late to try a new experience.

People in their 60s, 70s and 80s who in the past accepted wrinkled faces are now seeking surgical improvement in ever-increasing numbers. Even younger people are seeking plastic surgery. Some feel the procedure restores a youthful image and helps them compete in the marketplace.

If you are in good health and feel you can benefit from plastic surgery, there is no reason not to proceed. Most people are pleased with the results. We caution you that plastic surgery changes your outward appearance, but it may not change your inner feelings about yourself.

If you go ahead with the surgery, ask your doctor for a referral and make an appointment with the physician and interview him. Ask about the physician's experience, where the surgery will be done, what the procedure is and how long the recovery period is. Also be informed about the risks and costs involved. Many insurance policies do not cover cosmetic surgery.

Q: I read that older people are prone to getting pneumonia when they have the flu, and that it can be fatal. How does a person know if the flu is turning into pneumonia?

A: By lowering a person's resistance, a virus infection may allow more serious infections to occur, especially pneumonia. According to the National Institute on Aging, pneumonia is one of the five leading causes of death among people over 65.

Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs and may be caused by a flu virus, but usually it results from bacteria that multiply in the system during a virus infection.

The symptoms of pneumonia are similar to those of the virus infection, but much more severe. Shaking chills are very common, and coughing becomes more frequent and may produce colored phlegm (yellow, green or rust). The fever that accompanies the virus infection will continue during pneumonia and usually rise higher. Pain in the chest may occur as the inflammation spreads to the pleura, the lining about the lungs. Shortness of breath suggests serious difficulty in the lungs.

Bacterial pneumonia is usually treated with penicillin or another antibiotic, which kills the bacteria and is very effective if given early enough in the course of the disease.

With early diagnosis and treatment, pneumonia is much less often fatal than it used to be. Even better, the most common form is preventable by the pneumococcal vaccination. Ask your doctor about it.

Q: My 88-year-old mother is about to enter a nursing home. She is frail and will be dependent on the staff for much of her care. I hear horror stories about how the elderly are mistreated in these facilities. I fear for Mother's safety because she is confused and can't speak for herself. What can I do?

A: Though abuse of nursing-home residents exists, the majority of staff people are caring, hard-working individuals. Cases of abuse are highly publicized, bringing needed awareness to an issue of serious concern, but at the same time creating unfounded skepticism about the ethical standards of all nursing-home staff.

If you live in the vicinity of the facility, visit your mother regularly at different times of the day. Is she clean and dressed? Are residents who are not bed-bound encouraged to eat meals in a common dining area? Are there a variety of activities to meet different needs and interests?

You have a right to expect good care, but keep in mind that short-staffing problems occur. The nursing assistants who will provide much of your mother's care have minimal training, work for low wages and have little job mobility. Their job is often physically and emotionally exhausting. Express your appreciation for little things they do for your mother. On the other hand, if you feel the care is consistently poor, speak with the administrator or director of nursing about your concerns.

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