REAL  AGE

Accident Prevention: Protect Your Youth


In 1994, approximately 150,000 Americans died from injuries; 61 percent of these deaths were considered accidental, and 80 percent of those accidental deaths were preventable. For American adults age thirty-five to forty-five, accidental poisoning (primarily drug overdoses), motor vehicle accidents, and firearm accidents are the first, second, and third major causes of death, according to a report by the National Center for Health Statistics. Motor vehicle accidents are the third leading cause of death among Americans under age sixty-five, resulting in over 45,750 deaths and 500,000 serious injuries each year.


(THESE  STATS  ARE  OLD  AS  THE  BOOK  WAS  PUBLISHED  IN  2000  -  Keith Hunt)


Although we tend not to think of avoiding accidents as something we can do to stay young, it is a quick and easy way to do just that. Not only do we risk death in traffic accidents and such accidents as falls (the second leading cause of accidental death), the injuries we sustain are likely to cause ageing because they can make us less mobile, less likely to be active, and more prone to chronic pain. And accidents not only directly cause physical disability and impairment from the injury, they also cause ageing from stress.


As a doctor, what I find maddening about the accident statistics in the United States is that so many accidents are preventable. For example, drunk driving is a leading cause of car accidents, accounting for about 40 percent of all traffic deaths and 9 percent of all injuries (see Chapter 10 on alcohol use and abuse). Although we all know better than to drink and drive, too many of us still do so. The cost of a cab is nothing compared with the cost of your life. But we persist. The question is, Why tempt fate?


I ask that question every time I see a patient who gets hurt because a loaded gun was stored in the house. Or because he thought it would be a good idea to climb out on the roof to clean the gutter but slipped and fell. Or when I see someone in a cast from a ski injury received when playing the daredevil. Although so many accidents are one of a kind in their particulars, they often have something in common: no common sense. If that little voice in your head says, 'Don't do it,' don't do it. If something 'feels' risky, don't risk it. Promptly fix potentially hazardous situations. Don't let the accident-waiting-to-happen become the accident that happened. It's one of the best ways to keep yourself young.


Remember, it's not just at home but at work, too, that you need to pay attention to safety. Most Americans between twenty-two and sixty-five (more than 120 million of us) spend 40 percent of their waking hours at work. Most jobs carry a certain amount of risk from accidental injury. Whether it's the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome from typing at a computer or lung cancer from breathing toxic fumes in a factory, your job can be dangerous. Each year, 6,500 Americans die from work-related injuries, and 13.2 million suffer nonfatal injuries. Think about the risks you face on the job and what steps you can take to avoid them. Make choices that help protect your youth. No job is worth getting older for.


These are the general statistics, but what about the particulars? What safety advice should you follow? Let's consider the biggest cause of accidents: transportation. Whether it's a car, bike, or motorcycle, you can get younger while getting from here to there.


Seat Belts: Buckle Up, Youngster! 


As an anesthesiologist, I think about car safety all the time. Every month, I see the victims of auto accidents as they are rushed into the operating room for emergency surgery, clinging to the last thread of life. Perhaps nothing brings it into focus like seeing one of your own there. This past summer, a colleague of mine almost died. Her child did die. A summer vacation in the mountains that should have been perfect but wasn't. It was raining, and the road was slick. Their rented van was winding up a curvy mountain road when a flash flood hit. The van hydroplaned and plummeted over a precipice. Everyone in the van was wearing a seat belt, except my colleague and her child, who were thrown from the van. The child was killed, and my colleague suffered serious internal injuries and broken bones. The fact that she survived at all was a miracle. No one wearing a seat belt was hurt at all.


This is a shocking story that has a very real point. The moral is to buckle your seat belt. It can save your life. And it will make you younger. A recent study estimated that seat belts and air bags reduce a person's risk of severe injury by 61 percent. Simply using a three-point seat belt—one that crosses over both the lap and shoulder—reduces your risk by as much as 45 percent.


Because seat belts have a proven safety record, most states now require that you wear one whenever you are riding in a car. Strap on a seat belt every time you get in a moving vehicle, whether it's your car or a cab or anything else with wheels. Wear a seat belt even if you are sitting in the backseat and make sure that every seat belt has both a lap and a shoulder harness. Keep all seat belts in good working condition. If you have an older car, make sure that the seat belts are up to standard, even if you have to replace the old ones. If you are under 5 feet 2 inches tall, have a small frame, or have children who regularly ride in the car, check to make sure the shoulder harnesses fit properly. If they don't, go to a service dealer and have them adjusted. Don't deliberately slip out of the shoulder strap, either. The shoulder strap significandy reduces the amount of damage to internal organs that would occur if you get into an auto accident.


Also, have your car inspected annually or every five thousand miles. Have the oil, tires, and engine checked. If you are about to go on a long trip, have a mechanic look the car over to make sure it's in good working order. Finally, by making safety a priority when you shop for a car, you are choosing to get younger. Look for cars with a strong safety record. It's worth a little more money for the added youth protection such a record provides.


New cars are required to have air bags. If your car doesn't have them, consider trading it in for a car that does. Air bags reduce the risk of death by 9-16 percent among drivers who use seat belts and by as much as 20 percent among drivers who do not wear seat belts. Experts estimate that air bags have prevented some 1,600 fatalities from head-on collisions over the past six years.


Despite the recent furor over air bags, they still, car per car, accident per accident, save lives. The concern has been that, in rare instances, air bags have deployed rapidly, hurting and even killing the passengers they were supposed to protect. Air bags have been shown to pose risks for only two groups: young children and adults (almost exclusively women) who are shorter than 5 feet 2 inches. Almost all of the adults who died in accidents involving deployed airbags were not wearing seat belts.


Another auto safety youth rule: Drive within five miles an hour of the speed limit; it can keep you three years younger in RealAge. Although it sounds easy, this one is far easier said than done. In developing the RealAge concept, I have run hundreds of people through the computer program that calculates their RealAge. At the end of the run, the computer gives a RealAge reading and makes suggestions for reducing that age even further. A vast majority of people who have taken the test admit to speeding on a regular basis. When the computer asks them if they would be willing to modify their behavior, most of them say, 'No way!' Indeed, more people say that they would rather give up smoking than speeding! It is amazing that so many people refuse to budge on this one: Slowing down and staying close to the speed limit is a reliable way to keep your RealAge younger. Indeed, for drivers under age thirty-five, the most frequent cause of auto accidents is speeding (see Table 6.2). For drivers over age seventy-five, the most frequent cause is unsafe or ill-timed left turns against traffic. Finally, if you can do so, use a cell phone only when you are not driving. Using a cell phone while driving focuses your attention on the conversation; this diversion of attention increases the accident rate.


(IT  IS  BECOMING  A  LAW  IN  MOST  PLACES  THAT  YOU  CANNOT  DRIVE  AND  USE  A  CELL-PHONE - TALKING  AND/OR  TEXTING  -  Keith Hunt)


Motorcycles: Don't Forget the Helmet


We associate motorcycles with wild youth. The truth is, few things can age you so quickly. Five seconds is all it takes to go from 'young' to 'dead.' A motorcyclist is thirty-five times more likely to be killed on the road than the typical car owner. And it is not surprising that most motorcycle deaths and serious trauma come from head injuries. Emergency room doctors have been known to refer crudely to motorcyclists as 'organ donors' because so many victims arrive at the emergency room brain dead, the rest of the body's vital organs intact. Although it sounds harsh, the point is well taken. The risk of death aside, motorcyclists who do survive accidents often endure injuries that are disabling or crippling, including paralysis from spinal cord injury, loss of limbs, and severe and multiple fractures.


Although that youthful urge to hit the road may grab you, choosing to ride a motorcycle is choosing to get older. If you do decide to ride one, try to avoid roads with lots of traffic, go at moderate speeds, wear protective clothing, and make the most important choice for youth—wear a helmet. Comparisons of helmeted and nonhelmeted riders have found that the use of helmets decreased the number of fatalities by as much as 27 percent and that nonhelmeted drivers had two to four times the number of head injuries. Helmets

Table 6.2

The RealAge Effect of Speeding For Men

Driving the Following Miles Over the Speed Limit

Less than 5 mph

5to9mph 9 to 14mph

15 mph or more


Calendar Age



RealAge



35

34.8

35.7


36.6

43.1

55

54.9

55.2


55.3

59.2

70

69.8

70.1


70.2

72.7

For Women

Driving the Following Miles Over the Speed Limit



Less than 5 mph

5 to 9 mph

9 to

14 mph

15 mph or more

Calendar Age



RealAge



35

34.8

35.3


35.5

42.1

55

54-9

55.1


55.1

56.9

70

69.8

70


70.1

71.2



don't make motorcycle riding safe, just safer. After California passed a mandatory helmet law, serious head injuries from motorcycle accidents decreased by 34 percent. In the year after passage of a helmet law in Texas, the number of motorcycle fatalities due to head injuries decreased by 57 percent, and the number of severe injuries to the head in motorcycle accidents declined by 54 percent.


Other safety tips: Keep your headlights on at all times. The risk of fatal daytime crashes decreases by 13 percent simply by keeping the lights on. You should also wear heavy leather boots and such thick clothing as heavy jeans and a leather jacket when riding, to keep your arms and legs covered. This habit helps prevent injury to the feet, legs, and arms. I was shocked to learn from a television sports producer who had covered motorcycle races that professional motorcycle racers rarely finish their careers without losing at least part of a foot. That's not something to look forward to as you age.


Of course, never ride a motorcycle when under the influence of drugs or alcohol. True to the rebel image we associate with motorcycle riders, the rates of driving under the influence are much higher for motorcyclists than for those who drive cars and other types of motor vehicles. More than half of those injured in motorcycle accidents have elevated blood alcohol levels, and more than 40 percent test positive for marijuana use.


Bicycling: A Hardhead for Youth


So you think that taking your bike out for a ride will help lower your RealAge? Indeed it will. You burn more than 450 calories an hour just riding at a moderate pace. Incorporating this type of stamina-building exercise into your life can reduce your RealAge by as much as six years (see Chapter 9). On that same bike ride, you can do something else that will help make you even younger. Wear a helmet. Wearing a helmet can help make your RealAge 0.4 years younger than that of nonhelmeted riders (when calculated at a rate of fifty days per year of bike riding).


Each year more than half a million Americans end up in emergency rooms because of bicycle accidents. Head injuries account for one-third of these emergency room visits, two-thirds of the hospitalizations, and three-fourths of the deaths. And cyclists who suffer head injury are twenty times more likely to die than are those who are injured elsewhere. A recent study found that the use of helmets by bicyclists reduced the risk of head injuries by as much as 85 percent and reduced the risk of brain injury by more than 88 percent. The 'take-home message'? Choose youth. Wearing your helmet will help reduce your risk of injury and will keep your RealAge young.


Does wearing a helmet mean that you won't get a head injury? No. But it does make it less likely. Communities that have promoted extensive bike-safety education and encouraged the use of helmets have seen a 50 percent increase in the use of helmets and a corresponding decrease in head injuries requiring emergency or hospital care. In the event you do bump your head, with or without a helmet, see a doctor. Many cyclists who fall and hit their heads but don't have any other injury requiring medical care, often do not go to the doctor. Remember, head injuries can be very serious and often don't produce symptoms right away, sometimes not for months or even years. If you receive a hard knock on the head, it is always best to have a physician look you over.


Also, if you have an accident while wearing a helmet, replace the helmet. Even though it may not look damaged, it might be. Many manufacturers have a crash-protection guarantee, agreeing to replace a helmet for free if you are in a crash. Once you buy a helmet, treat it carefully. The helmet can be damaged by extremes of hot and cold. Consider replacing your helmet every five years because helmets can begin to deteriorate internally with time and use. The quality of helmets has improved so much in the past five years that we can assume that the helmets manufactured five years from now will provide even better protection.


Finally, take these extra safety steps for youth: Make sure your bike is in good working order. Have it tuned up regularly and make sure that you have good tires; that the brakes work; and, of course, that the bike fits you properly. Try to ride on bike paths and avoid roads with heavy traffic. Wear reflective clothing when you ride on roads where there is automobile traffic, especially at night, and have reflectors or lights on the bike itself. You might even consider getting a light for the back of your bike. If you're biking to reduce your RealAge, you might as well take a few steps to make your RealAge younger still.


Other Precautions: Making Safety an Issue


Driving, motorcycling, and biking are obvious activities in which we might get injured. Other activities have risks, too. If you participate in an adventure sport—whether downhill skiing or scuba diving—make sure you have the proper equipment and proper training. No matter what the activity, if there is a reasonable chance of a head injury, wear a helmet. If you play a racket sport or basketball, wear eye protection. All you have to do is look at professional basketball players with their wraparound glasses or professional bikers with their helmets on to know that the people at the top take safety seriously. Even sports like in-line skating require safety precautions. Enter an emergency room on any nice spring Saturday afternoon, and you will see it packed with skaters who forgot to put on their knee pads, wrist guards, and helmets. Boating accidents are another common source of injury, often because people forget that drinking-and-driving rules apply to the waterways, too.

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TO  BE  CONTINUED