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BLOOMINGTON - Doctors learn the principles of successful aging from their patients, said Dr. Uday Deoskar, a Bloomington internist and geriatric specialist.

Deoskar's teacher for the past 14 years has been Ed Diddams.

Diddams, 92, is nearly blind and has diabetes. But he gives himself an insulin shot each night, monitors his blood sugar, eats healthy and exercises every morning and afternoon.

He keeps up with current events and keeps beer in his refrigerator for friends.

But Diddams doesn't touch the stuff. He prefers a couple servings of scotch or vodka before dinner.

He enjoys conversation, but you'll have to work to keep up if the topic is fishing, health or something else that he's passionate about.

"I'm not afraid to disagree with you people or anybody else," he said. "You can disagree, but be friendly."

Diddams is a good role model for people of any age on how to age successfully because he has overcome health problems and life challenges using a variety of strategies, Deoskar said.

"Three elements of successful aging are: minimizing or controlling disease, social engagement, and preservation of physical and mental health," Deoskar said. "He does all those things."

"Since I first met him in 1993, he was always jovial," Deoskar said. "The most important thing he had was attitude."

"You said the magic word: attitude," said Diddams, who insists that visitors call him Ed. "Everybody I talk with says 'Your attitude is good.' That's because I'm not complaining. I look at some people and they're worse off than me. I'm lucky.

"But some elderly people bitch and complain and what good does it do? You can't accomplish anything by doing it. I've been very fortunate."

Diddams, a Minnesota native, graduated from Luther College and worked in his father's meat market before attending the University of Michigan, where he received a master's degree in public health in 1938.

He worked as the sanitarian for Ontonagon and Baraga counties' health department in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. That's where he got the nickname, Didd.

"Worse nicknames? I've had some," he said.

That's also where he met Mary.

"We met in June 1940, had our first date in August and married in December," he said. They had one son.

He was chief sanitarian for the health department in Spokane County, Wash.; was administrative sanitarian for the Washington state health department; and director of environmental health in Tacoma, Wash., before he was appointed chief sanitarian of the McLean County Health Department in 1953.

He was director of the health department in 1962-63, and in 1966 went to work for the Illinois Department of Public Health. He returned to the McLean County Health Department as director from 1971 to 1976.

"I was the first non-medical (doctor) director of the McLean County Health Department," Diddams said proudly.

After retiring in 1976, he spent a lot of time with Mary and fishing with friends. He took up golf at age 70.

"When I say 'golf,' I'm using that word very loosely," he said. "I wasn't very good but I enjoyed it and that's what's important."

In the 1980s, Diddams was diagnosed with macular degeneration, a progressive deterioration of the maculae of the retina. "I went to a retinologist and he said he couldn't do anything about it." So Diddams just went on with his life.

In the mid-1990s, Mary began to show signs of Alzheimer's disease. By about 2000, the symptoms had progressed so that Diddams had to admit her to the McLean County Nursing Home. He spent a lot of time there with her for the next few years, Deoskar said.

In 2001, Diddams' vision had worsened to the point that he had difficulty driving.

"I hung my keys on the wall in 2001. I could drive but I shouldn't have been driving."

About the same time, he was diagnosed with diabetes and began measuring his blood sugar and giving himself insulin shots.

In 2004, Mary died. Diddams' health took a turn for the worse.

Diddams doesn't remember much about the next few months but Deoskar does. He said Diddams nearly died.

"He has diabetes, and diabetes is not a friendly disease," Deoskar said. "Despite his own best efforts, he has vision problems and diabetes foot ulcers.

"At one time, he had a bowel obstruction and diabetic neuropathy (inflammation or degeneration of the peripheral nerves)," Deoskar recalled.

He received good care in the hospital and in the McLean County Nursing Home, Deoskar said. While Deoskar and other medical professionals were able to help Diddams control his disease, Diddams had to do the rest, Deoskar said.

"At the earliest time he could go home, he went back to his mobile home," Deoskar said.

"He has had his fair share of threats from diabetes and other medical conditions" but fought back, Deoskar said. Diddams got help from friends and services of a parish nurse.

"He had a variety of players supporting him," Deoskar said. "Social engagement is important. People who are socially engaged and have a good sense of humor do quite well and he definitely fits that bill.

"His nature attracts people. He likes to be with people and people like to be with him."

Diddams has been involved in his health-care decisions.

"He is somebody who always wanted to be in charge of his health," Deoskar said.

Diddams said, "I suppose I'm ornery but I'm not scared of 'em (doctors). I don't let 'em talk over my head. I think everybody should ask questions but I probably have a different attitude toward doctors because I worked for 'em for years."

Diddams developed his own exercise program. He does 600 steps on his treadmill each morning and 400 each afternoon.

Every other day, he works his upper body. Sitting with a five-pound weight in each hand, he does 100 repetitions up, 100 forward and 100 to each side.

"That's pretty good exercise," Diddams said.

Deoskar said, "If he was not physically active, he could have lost his legs" because of diabetic neuropathy.

While Diddams successfully fought his diabetes, he couldn't do anything to improve his macular degeneration. When it became difficult for him to see, he made the tough decision to move from his mobile home into an apartment at Westminster Village in Bloomington in January.

"He had a hard time moving," Deoskar said. "But he's very adaptable. He has a good attitude and a willingness to change. Some people get so attached to things, they can't leave. He adjusts to it."

Diddams is happy he made the move. He eats with the other residents, eats healthy and can tell you exactly what he had for breakfast, lunch, dinner and his nighttime snack.

He has made provisions for his near-blindness, programming important phone numbers into his phone so he can just call out the name of the person and the number is dialed. He uses a tape recorder to record important things that he wants to remember to tell people, uses a voice-activated glucose checking machine, and listens to the radio and television to keep up with current events.

Diddams' advice to others trying to age successfully is simple:

"Don't find fault. Don't complain. Have a positive attitude."


Working toward improved health aids aging process

By Paul Swiech | pswiech@pantagraph.com

BLOOMINGTON - You can't stop aging. But for most people, it's gradual and modifiable, said Dr. Uday Deoskar of the Successful Aging Center in Bloomington.

Beginning in their 40s, people should work to improve their physical, intellectual, social, emotional, occupational and spiritual health. That will help them in the short term, assist in controlling their health care costs and increase the odds they will live an active and independent life right up to death, Deoskar said.

Here are some strategies:

Have a positive attitude

A positive outlook - including not worrying about things you can't control - contributes to emotional, mental and physical health.

Having a sense of humor and the ability to laugh at yourself and life's twists reduces stress. A good attitude also means people will want to be around you.

Take control of your health

One thing you do have some control over is your health. If you have a disease, use your doctor and other medical professionals to help you control it. Ask questions.

"An important characteristic of people who age successfully is the concept of self-efficacy," Deoskar said. "They have a fair amount of confidence in what they do; they take charge when it's appropriate and recognize that their own efforts and knowledge contribute to their health.

"If they're not well, they want to get better. Doctors can fix disease but can't fix health. You can."

Exercise your body

"Exercise is important because we lose bone and muscle mass and put less demand on our heart as we age if we don't exercise. We lose power," Deoskar said. "Exercise helps blood flow to all organs and helps to keep tissue and arteries healthy, boosts metabolism and builds muscle mass. It helps our appetite, our sleep and our immune system. Almost every body function is related to physical activity.

"Exercise helps with everything from memory to bowel movements."

But not everyone is interested in the same exercise. Determine what moves you and do it.

Eat healthy

Eat nutritious foods, focusing on fruits and vegetables and reasonable portions of food. You need to fuel your body with good food but should enjoy eating also.

Socialize

Supportive friends and family can help you with your problems, celebrate your joys and just be there.

A support network is important for everything from safety to just having someone to talk with, Deoskar said. Social engagement is key to successful aging. If you don't have supportive family or friends around, make new friends through your church, service club or neighborhood.

Be adaptable

Be open to change. Some older adults refuse to adjust to change, then feel left behind. Be open to new ideas and new ways of doing things. You may feel anxious in the short run but will feel stronger in the long run.

Exercise your mind

Staying mentally active helps to preserve mental health. Be a lifelong learner. Keep up with the news, remain engaged with subjects that interest you, read, take classes, do crossword puzzles, join discussion groups - whatever it takes to keep your mind nimble.

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