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Waikato DHB Geriatrician Has Advice For Baby Boomers

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Waikato DHB Geriatrician Has Advice For Baby Boomers

Dr Phil Wood has some words of advice for those baby boomers wanting to avoid the dreaded tsunami of old age, falls and Alzheimer's disease.

The Waikato DHB geriatrician says whatever is good for the heart is good for the brain so fruit and vegetables should form part of a healthy diet and the more colourful the fruit and vegetables, the better.

So there's always a place for activities even, square or line dancing, he says.

"The use of brain and exercise together are very important."

More importantly people with elevated blood pressure should get it sorted out, check out your cholesterol and body mass index.

"If you are getting older and you're about to retire, avoid dropping out of any social networks."

In other words, use your retiring years to remain active, increase your social networks and eat sensibly.

"Keep using your brain."

At 55, Dr Wood has an obvious interest in keeping himself fit for old age but he also questions the widely held view that older people are going to "swamp" the health system. There will be new treatments available and the baby boomers know how to look after themselves better than their ancestors do.

"Scandinavia is 20 years ahead of us and they are doing okay."

Dr Wood is clinical service leader of Waikato DHB's older persons and rehabilitation services and recently stepped into a key medical leadership role heading Waikato Hospital's clinical units.

On top of that, he also maintains a research and private practice on Auckland's North Shore and a Memory Clinic at North Shore Hospital.

"One of the reasons I went into geriatrics was because it was a growth industry but it's always had a somewhat poor cousin profile. It is hard work and you don't get the immediate kick back. If you work there because you are going to get a kick out of it then you will be sadly disappointed. You are working for a disadvantaged group of people not always seen by society in a good light."

The planning Dubs like Waikato are going through have to factor in that there is an ageing population that will live longer. Statistics NZ predicts that New Zealand's over 65 population will double in the next 20 years from 550,000 to one million by the late 2020s.

One in four of the 65 plus age group will be 85 or older compared with one in eight now.

Dr Wood was part of the planning for Waikato as a consultant helping to write a report in 2008 defining the size and need for an older persons service.

After submitting it, Dr Wood really wanted to push it along.

"When you want to catch a wave, you go looking for a big wave. What's going to happen in Waikato is the biggest single service development in Australasia in the last 20-25 years and maybe for the next 30 years.

"Waikato has been left behind a bit and it's got a lot of catch up to do. I was also tired of writing reports and not being around to see much happen."

So he accepted the job as clinical services leader in early 2009.

Two months ago two services, which currently operate separately within Waikato District Health Board's provider arm of hospital and health services, announced they were to come together in a new $42 million building at the Waikato Hospital campus. The Older Persons and Rehabilitation Services and Mental Health Services for Older People will provide integrated services for the elderly and those who need rehabilitation after a stroke or trauma. Dr Wood said the aim was to develop 'state of the art' services by helping patients in the right place at the right time with the right people.

"I'd love to see all this happening in Waikato. Right at the moment I'm developing the baseline conversations with important people so we can improve the academic focus for services for older people, and other development in Waikato."

Services are about people and processes, not necessarily buildings. "Everything we do here could be done in tents," he says. "It's more to do with what we do, not where we work. But we are focusing on the building because it will make a whole lot of things so much easier and safer."

"We are working towards Waikato becoming a centre of excellence for service development and delivery and having a strong academic focus on that so we can inform and engage other groups around New Zealand and perhaps Australasia."

In his new appointment as Director of Clinical Units at Waikato Hospital, Dr Wood provides clinical leadership for the groups of medical staff aligned with the matching nursing resource, inpatient capacity and outpatient facilities.

He works closely with Waikato Hospital nursing director Suzanne Lawes and through a dotted line arrangement with chief medical advisor Dr Tom Watson and nursing and midwifery director Sue Hayward.

"This is not about each individual unit; this is what is best for Waikato DHB and the Midland region. I've very impressed with the organisation particularly areas like the elective services team. We've got a massive build going on here too - whenever you see cranes on the skyline, something's clearly going on. With a build that size there's a natural move to improve the services that are there."

The obvious question, and one his wife Sally always asks is how does he fit it all in?

"I want to make the place independent of me so I can leave and things don't fall apart. It's so important to have a succession plan. We've got a great team in OP and RS and at Waikato Hospital - there's a real degree of enthusiasm so that makes it easier for me to do all I have to do.

"Now I have a really big job I am really careful to make my time count."

Dr Wood and his wife own a 25 acre property at Dairy Flat north of Auckland. There they breed alpacas primarily for the fibre.

"Alpacas are not an easy way to make money unless you're into it fulltime. In the long run the fibre is what it is all about even though they make great farm pets."

A lot of fibre goes into the high end fashion industry. It blends well with silk and wool.

"It was Sally who got into it. She went out into one of those farm shows and came back all enthused. There's no footrot, no fly strike problems. You shear them once a year and you don't have to dag them. They're also nice company."

Another challenge for the couple who have three grown up sons aged 24, 25 and 26 is the construction of a new off-grid house on the property. It will have solar and thermal mass storage.

Dr Wood is not attracted to job offers from overseas. After he finished his medical training and had his fellowship, he spent five years in the Midlands area of the UK where he did a lot of research into toxicology and Alzheimer's disease.

"Right now it's not right for me to go overseas. I'm quite happy here doing what I'm doing."

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