Specialty: Internal Medicine
Special Expertise: Geriatric Medicine, Alzheimer’s Disease
Hospital: NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital
On one hand, in his role as Regional Executive Medical Director for NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Group, William J. Higgins, MD, MBA, has the hefty responsibility of managing the hospital’s nearly 500 medical personnel. On the other hand, as a seasoned internist with a thriving Cold Spring-based practice, Higgins still sees patients regularly. Add to that his work on the New York State Coordinating Council for Services Related to Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias. Of his many responsibilities, Higgins says it has been his privilege to care for his patients over the past 27 years — often grieving with families of dying patients — just as it’s his privilege now to recruit excellent physicians from all over the nation to work in the Hudson Valley.
Any exciting breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s treatments?
My mother died of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) at a young age. She was diagnosed when I was in medical school — this is what spurred me on to study this disease. As we get a clearer understanding of the pathophysiology of the disease, scientists are able to design more precise drugs that act on the abnormal proteins that cause brain tissue to deteriorate. There are many clinical trials that look promising.
I’m glad we are starting to recognize that AD, similar to diabetes and heart disease, is a result of a complex interaction among multiple factors. Increased exercise, healthy eating, and treating high blood pressure may mitigate the risk of developing AD.
What can we learn from the rising number of ageless seniors who are vital into their 80s?
So called “ageless” people are smart people who take steps to enjoy their advancing years. It is never too late to eat in moderation and to exercise. Avoiding falls by correcting poor vision, checking medicine for side effects or balance issues, and avoiding too much alcohol are critical to success. Socializing with friends and family keeps you mentally sharp.
What are the key factors in aging healthfully?
Some people are genetically blessed to sail into their 80s with good genes. The rest of us need to put in a little more effort. Studies show that the aging process within cells can be accelerated with poor nutrition and a lack of exercise and sleep. Stress also enhances aging. That same research supported the benefits of reducing stress. Eating the right foods in moderation, and 10 minutes a day of exercise, can reduce the stress that causes our cells to age.