Health Risks Could Change Your Real Age

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February 14, 2006
How old are you really? That depends on what you’re doing, and we’re not just talking about smoking, diet and exercise. Dr. Bruce LeClair is Professor of Family Medicine at the Medical College of Georgia. He teaches first year students how to interview patients and get important medical information from them. We’re using real life patients they interviewed to show how making simple changes could save your life.

The four patients are a 26-year-old woman and mother of four,; a 57-year-old woman and mother of two, a 41-year-old single man and a 39-year-old single man. But how old are they really?

Beginning with the woman you’d think would have the longest to live, the 26-year-old.

“She was diagnosed with cervical cancer when she was five months pregnant,” said Drew Thodeson, medical student.

She’s been having babies since she was 14, and all that unprotected sex has given her the virus that causes cervical cancer, HPV. It’s likely she didn’t get yearly pap smears that would have detected the cancer early. So instead of being her true age of 26, Dr. LeClair puts her real age at 70.

The next patient is the 57-year-old woman.

“She’s in a wheelchair and has diabetes. Her MS was diagnosed 11 years old,” said Michael Ou, medical student.

Dr. LeClair says if she doesn’t control her diabetes, she’s putting herself at risk for heart and kidney disease and blindness. And while she’s really 57, he puts her real age at 65.

The third patient is a 41-year-old man; he has AIDS because he had unprotected sex. He ended up in the hospital because he stopped taking the medicine that would keep him from getting pneumonia, and that could have killed him. Dr. LeClair puts this 41-year-old man’s real age at 70.

And finally a 39-year-old man in a wheelchair, paralyzed after being hit riding his bike. He also has a history of mental illness.

“Because of his accident, yes, he will have problems with infections, blood clots, and a chance of kidney disease,” LeClair said.

Even so, Dr. LeClair says this 39-year-old is really 50.

If you’d like to see how old you really are, take this quiz.