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A new survey shows that older Americans may not be receiving the information on diet and exercise they need from their doctors to promote healthy aging.

The survey, conducted by the Merck Institute of Aging & Health (MIAH), found that half of adults 65 years and older who were questioned say that they would eat healthier if their doctors told them how. For adults 75 years and older, the figure jumped to 57 percent. African-Americans most strongly agreed, with 67 percent saying they would eat healthier if told how by their doctors.



Additionally, 42 percent of those surveyed say they would exercise more if their doctors told them what to do. For African-American respondents, the figure increased to 60 percent.


"The results are what we suspected," noted Patricia P. Barry, MD, Executive Director of MIAH. "Studies have shown what older adults should be doing in terms of diet, exercise and aging in a healthy manner. But that knowledge isn't being translated into improved patient information and improved patient care."


Overall, more than half (56%) of older Americans could be classified as overweight or obese, according to their body mass index scores. Of that number, 20 percent don't think they need to lose weight.


Dr. Barry added, "Unfortunately, not providing information on diet and exercise is only one symptom of a much larger problem. There's a gap between what physicians know and what they need to know to treat geriatric patients. Moreover, physicians need to do more to educate older patients on a wide spectrum of issues. Our toolkits are designed to improve dialogue between physicians and older adults."


To close this gap and to improve patient education, MIAH sponsors a set of online physician education toolkits on its website, www.miahonline.org. The toolkits, in English and Spanish, address memory loss, falls, incontinence and depression. They were developed by the American Geriatric Society's Practicing Physician Education Project. Older adults and their caregivers can also use toolkit resources, such as question checklists, to learn about geriatric conditions and to discuss their concerns with their healthcare providers.


Three of the toolkits were chosen to be taught at a series of nine interactive workshops at the American College of Physician's (ACP) Annual Session in New Orleans, Louisiana, April 22-24. A new toolkit, on congestive heart failure, will also be launched on the MIAH website on April 24th.


Sharon A. Levine, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine and Director of Education in the Geriatrics Section at Boston University School of Medicine, will present the toolkits at workshops on falls, incontinence and memory loss.


According to Dr. Levine, "When it comes to physician education, we know that traditional methods, such as formal 'Continuing Medical Education' courses, do not change physician behavior and result in better care. But innovative and interactive programs, like those that use the MIAH-sponsored toolkits, have proven highly effective in improving training, improving practice and improving patient education. We need more resources like these, and we need more doctors to be using them."


The MIAH is a non-profit organization, funded by the Merck Company Foundation, and located in Washington DC. It is dedicated to improving the health, independence and quality of life of older adults around the world through education and information. The Institute sponsors physician education and community-based projects in the United States, Europe and Latin America. MIAH is expecting to add more physician toolkits this year to its growing collection of website resources.

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