Do you want to continue flying past age 50? How about 80, 90 or even 100? Of course you do, but it will require you to be proactive about your health.
About 27% of all pilots are over the age of 50, according to Dr. Jack Hastings, an AME who is on EAA’s Aeromedical Advisory Council.
Medical experts have documented — and we all know — that “things happen as time goes on,” Hastings told a packed forum crowd at an AirVenture forum. “We don’t do as well as we used to.”
Start with vision: Acuity decreases, while pupils get smaller and reaction slows. Our lenses become more rigid, which results in decreased contrast sensitivity.
Hearing also is affected, with a loss in the higher frequencies. Impaired speech discrimination makes it hard to hear one voice in a crowded room.
We begin losing muscle strength at 50, with an average loss of 33% by the age of 80, Hastings said. “Speed and coordination also decrease,” he added.
Intellectually, there’s isn’t much decline until the late 60s or so. “We may learn more slowly,” he said. “We’ll also have a slower memory retrieval time and our mental flexibility is less.”
Experience compensates for those losses, he said.
So what’s the secret to continued takeoffs? It’s deceptively simple: Take care of yourself.
“Don’t get a disease, in the first place,” Hastings said.
Of course, there are many things we don’t have control over, such as age, sex and family history.
But we can be proactive, especially if we already have an existing disease such as diabetes, hypertension or cardiac disease, by taking some common sense steps: Stop smoking, lower alcohol consumption, keep our weight in check, and manage symptoms such as high blood pressure.
A consistent exercise program will keep you flying a lot longer, as exercise increases circulation, decreases stickiness in the blood (which contributes to high cholesterol), and decreases blood pressure, Hastings said.
“We’re talking 20 to 30 minutes four or five times a week,” he said. “Make it a habit.”
THE EFFECTS OF POOR HEALTH AT ALTITUDE
All pilots — not just those over 50 — should know the signs of hypoxia (a shortage of oxygen in the body): rapid breathing, poor coordination, executing poor judgment, dizziness, headache, and fatigue. As we age and succumb to health conditions, it becomes even more vital.
Hastings told the tale of one couple who were overtaken by hypoxia — she passed out at 33,000 feet, while he passed out at 22,000 because of his health issues.
“Oxygen saturation should be at 98%,” he said. “If it gets below 90%, that’s a warning sign.”
For more information: EAA.org