A Steady Pace of Health at All Ages
Dr. Eva Salamon is proud of the relationship she has with her mother. “My mother is a woman I admire greatly,” Salamon says. “She has always been a supportive, encouraging, educated woman.” Salamon says her relationship with her mother has influenced the relationship she has with her own children, and it inspires the relationship she has with her patients as a Bond Clinic obstetrician and gynecologist.
In her practice, Salamon sees women at various stages in their lives, from young girls just beginning their teenage years, to women experiencing their first pregnancy, to seasoned mothers on the brink of menopause.
With women in each of these life stages, Salamon says she shares key medical information, anecdotes from her own life as a working wife and mother, and encouragement for her patients. “I share with my patients,” she says. “I’m very open with them about things I’ve learned in my own life. I try to have an emotional connection with my patients. Visiting the doctor is more than just a physical check-up — you address more than just their physical health.”
It is important to look at the stages in a woman’s life and to examine the health issues and concerns women face at each age.
Each woman begins her life as a daughter, progressing into the early teenage to young adult years. This age is a crucial time for daughters to learn about women’s health from their mothers and doctors, rather than unreliable sources such as the Internet and one’s young friends.
“Health issues for women vary as they age, but one thing remains the same, the need for unbiased, accurate information,” says Dr. Peter Verrill, a gynecologist at Gessler Clinic in Winter Haven. “Some of the information [on the Internet] is terrific, some of it is bogus and some of it is dangerous. Even today, most preteens and teens get their information from friends and not more reliable sources.” Due to this statistic, Verrill says the goal in gynecology is to establish a relationship with teenagers by age 14.
Verrill also says it is important for doctors in his field to discuss healthy relationships with teenage patients before sexual activity begins. “We always encourage an open relationship with the patient’s mother, but we also encourage a relationship with the nurse or medical assistant, just in case there are problems at home,” he says.
As girls age into young women, Verrill points out that the emphasis on healthy relationships continues, but a new emphasis is placed on protection. “Protection against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), pregnancy and predatory relationships [are emphasized],” he says.
Salamon says that when she sees young women in this age group, she talks with them about making the right decisions for their situations. “Younger women are more prone to infections when they engage in sexual activity,” she says. “Without sounding like their mother, I try to talk to them about using condoms and birth control. Education is important for women of all ages.”
Salamon also observes that with the young adult age group, she begins talking with her patients about their plans. “They need to start thinking about their goals,” she says. “Do they want children? If so, when? Do they want to be a stay-at-home mom, or have a career and use child-care? There are a lot of things to start considering at this age. I believe in planning parenthood.”
With women preparing for motherhood and those embarking on this journey for the first time, Salamon says it is important to consider the risks and health issues associated with pregnancy. “Parenting is the toughest job you’ll ever have,” she says. “And, there are risks associated with pregnancy. It’s not the perfect thing you see on TV. People still die in childbirth. It’s rare, but it happens, and people often don’t consider the risks.” She also stresses that having a child requires maturity, and that being prepared is ideal.
One way to prepare for childbirth can be sharing with other pregnant women. For uninsured women, the Polk County Health Department has started a program called Centering Pregnancy, a way for pregnant women to receive care in a group setting.
In this program, pregnant women meet with eight to 12 other women with similar due dates to share in discussing topics related to pregnancy.
The women meet with a nurse, and the same group of women, which allows for continued sharing and development of a support group that often extends well into the child-rearing period. “Pregnancy is such a wonderful time to share, but it also benefits from receiving a lot of support,” says Dr. Daniel Haight, the director of the Polk County Health Department. “At first, some pregnant women think they may like old-fashioned individual care, but by the end of their pregnancy they have found many friends in the group.”
As women age, they continue to face many of the same health issues, Verrill says. However, an increased focus is placed on long-term health. “The biggest health concern, after smoking, is obesity,” he says.
Cholesterol, diabetes and anemia screenings become important, as well as breast cancer screening, colon cancer screening and risk-reduction counseling — especially in instances of dangerous relationships and smoking.
“Every woman is afraid of cancer, but lowering diabetes and heart disease takes more time to explain, because those are the most dangerous to a long healthy life,” he clarifies.
Verrill says he has learned from his patients and the women in his life to listen and help patients understand his diagnoses. “I think the most important thing I’ve learned from the women in my life is to be a better listener,” he says. “Busy specialists in other fields don’t have the time to explain things in ways the concerned mom or wife can understand. I try to reassure her as best I can.”
“Older women become concerned with body image, irregular periods, hot flashes, as well as the issues discussed previously,” Verrill says. “Vaccinations should not be forgotten, especially the all important flu shot and the new tetanus shot with a booster for pertussis — which is making a comeback.” Additionally, Verrill elaborates that in treating this age group, many gynecologists go beyond their specialty and transition into primary care.
Salamon says that with her older patients, she takes the time to listen to their new concerns. “At this age, a woman often begins transitioning from taking care of her children to taking care of her older parents,” she says. “This can be a stressful period in a woman’s life. I try to remind my patients that they still need to make time for themselves.”
The women in the golden years have additional concerns, Verrill says. “Many will say that the years are not so golden,” he shares. “Work has transitioned into worry. They worry about their kids that are not kids anymore. They worry about finances, health insurance, retirement, and family history, particularly Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. Besides the counseling already going on, particular concern exists for osteoporosis now that women are using hormone therapy much less.”
With each life stage, women experience different physical, emotional and mental needs, and Salamon knows from experience that it is crucial address each of these areas. “Women need different things at different points in their life,” she says. “I enjoy working with all my patients as they experience these stages.”
story by MEREDITH JEAN MORTON