The Ghost of Christmas Future

by John A. Rumberger, PhD, MD, FACC – Director of Cardiac Imaging, The PrincetonLongevityCenter

The classic tale about the past, present, and future redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ teaches lessons to all.  One of the most poignant moments at the end comes from Scrooge when he asks the Ghost of Christmas Future: “Are these the shadows of thing to come or of things that will come…” – Essentially, can I learn from lessons of the past and present to change my future or do the natural consequences of my past and present make my future inevitable?

The same questions can be asked about your current and future health.  But it is important that you understand the past, accept the present, and are willing to change the future.  Broad-based population data clearly demonstrate that, when it comes to health, avoiding, minimizing and changing past and present habits and lifestyle patterns now can indeed have profound beneficial effects on future health.  The problem is, as I see it, population goals do not translate well to personal goals unless you comprehend how the past and present affect your future as an individual.

The ‘yearly physical’ by your doctor or even the University type ‘Executive Physicals’ only go a short way to allowing you to comprehend your health future.  Many of these are merely 30 minute discussions, punctuated by some tests, which are relayed in some fashion in the days to weeks to come.  Spa-type Executive Examinations allow you to relax, get a message, golf, and discuss your health with a health care professional.  Again, in my opinion, these only scratch the surface and often miss what we say in Medicine as the ‘teachable moment’.

At the Princeton Longevity Center we do what we call a ‘Comprehensive Examination’ – done throughout one day that avoids the ‘glitz’ and concentrates ‘on the facts’.

The PLC brand of the Comprehensive Examination takes into account the past and present via in depth historical and lifestyle discussion and a physical examination by a physician to provide a thorough understanding of your past and present health.  This information is then refined, culled, analyzed, and appended through in house imaging of the heart and body using 64-slice CT, analysis of body composition and bone density, pulmonary function testing, hearing/vision, and a comprehensive blood panel.  Discussions with the physician are also augmented and refined by a stress/fitness evaluation and outline of an individualized fitness program provided by a certified exercise physiologist.  Additionally a review of current diet and related issues and an individualized dietary/lifestyle program are provided by a certified dietician.  Additional testing can also be accomplished such a virtual colonoscopy, CT cardiac/carotid angiography, women’s health issues [including mammography], and additional advanced blood testing performed at the request of the client or suggested at the discretion of the attending physician after review of past and current tests.

The ‘teachable moment’ is thus enhanced by interactions with associated healthcare professionals and staff and ‘brought home’ during a thorough debrief of the results and tests done in the AM by again meeting with the attending physician in the PM; the goal is to define and discuss how the past and present have affected current health status and most importantly how changes in lifestyle, diet, exercise and [if necessary] appropriate natural and pharmaceutical medications can improve future health.  If circumstances arise that further testing is required or further outside consultations are needed – then these plans are also outlined as necessary on an individual basis.

The question to the ‘Ghost of Christmas Future’ is thus asked and answered.