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Seniors Learn Genetics, Emergencies, Cannabis, and End of Life (Part 1)

A medical & legal leader offers over 40 years of insights

BY Wendy J. Meyeroff

The best way for health leaders to stay forever current in changes and advances in healthcare? Work in the emergency areas of hospitals. It “keeps you in touch with what’s happening in the real world, right then and there,” said Dan Morhaim, M.D., when he spoke to a group of Baltimoreans this spring. Morhaim is a 40+-year veteran of being an emergency physician, and he’s also trained in Internal Medicine.

He once calculated he saw about “170,000 patients” in that career. He noted that working in emergency department helps health professionals stay connected because they see everyone; i.e., rich and poor, youngest and oldest, every ethnicity. All this leads to learning a lot about humans and their medical needs.

Morhaim reminded those in or near his age that while they grew up hearing about emergency ROOMs (“ER”), for at least the last 20 years this skilled area has gained respect. So much so that facilities now subsidize entire emergency DEPARTMENTS, called “ED”, and these are staffed by nurses, physicians, physician assistants, and technical staff who specialize in this area.

Watch your step

Emergency experts always emphasize about not wanting our visits. So how do we stay away, especially as we age? Morhaim admits one thing isn’t under our control: “Choose your parents wisely,” was his slightly joking advice, “because our gene pool puts us at greater risk for all sorts of conditions, including heart attacks, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and cancers.”

Genes aside, there are quite a few things we can do to protect our health. “There’s basic common-sense stuff: Wear your seat belt. Don’t smoke. Take your medicines,” Morhaim noted, but he added other insights.

For example, what is a serious injury that can be prevented? Not car accident injuries, which he told us was the leading issue before seat belts, baby seats, and airbags became mandatory. Instead it’s “Seniors falling at home, especially in the bathroom. Fifty percent of falls are there. So, safety-proof your bathroom [with things like] handrails and no-skid surfaces.” (My own writing for seniors has taught me this warning: make sure your no-skids in the bath and shower, plus outside bath mats, are truly no-slide so that you don’t slip around on anything.)

Anyone who lives in private homes or apartments should follow this rule: put BIG address numbers on the mailbox and/or front door. “When the paramedics are looking for you and you live at 121 Maple Drive, you want them to see ‘121’ in big numbers,” he pointed out. Otherwise the ambulance can roam around extra minutes trying to find the right address.

Reviewing the cannabis question

Morhaim also spent 20+ years as Deputy Majority Leader of the Maryland House of Delegates. One of the key issues he addressed--from both a medical and legal perspective--was the legalization of a medical marijuana program.

“Most medicines come from plants, like quinine, digoxin, and aspirin,” Morhaim reminded us. Today some people--including some doctors--now believe marijuana and its other cannabis chemicals are useful tools when handled appropriately.  

“Is cannabis a panacea? No, but it should be explored like any other plant,” he said. “There are benefits for many medical conditions, but there are concerns as with any medicine. First, always make sure to get a doctor’s approval (and your advisor should be someone who’s truly explored this plant’s benefits). Second, don’t drive or perform any other dangerous tasks until you’re acclimated, just like with any other medications.

And when it's time for end of life discussions and decisions? That's where Part 2 of our conversation with Morhaim comes in. Stay tuned.

Wendy J. Meyeroff, a Baltimore-based health communications expert, develops print/online materials for clients around the USA, in Canada, and beyond. Her special niche: writing for and about seniors for 20+ years.

Tips 2 avoid emergencies is just one senior wisdom. (Photo: T. Bain via

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