2015 Top Doctor: Walter Nieri, MD

Category: Profiles Issue: April 2015
Group Mid-Level
Character count 2500
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Med School/Year Graduated: Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine, 1968
Years in Practice: 40+

What compelled you to enter this field?
When I was young, I envisioned myself to be a Marcus Welby-like doctor. During my medical training, I enjoyed every aspect of medicine but finally settled on internal medicine. When I began my practice, I realized that I really enjoyed taking care of older patients. I found them fascinating and I always learned something from them.

How has the perception and reality of aging changed since you began practicing medicine?
In the past, turning 65 meant that you were an “older” adult. Now the new older adult is often considered to be 80. With the Baby Boomer generation, you will see more individuals 65 and older continue to work and be more active in community activities.

What are your practical tips for aging well?
The most important tip is to have a positive attitude. Often we see a negative attitude with aging reflected in the “I can’t do” rather than exploring “what I can do” ... the “would’ve, could’ve, and should’ve” rather than looking to the future. Maintaining socialization and continuing to pursue your interests are important.

You’re director of the Center for Healthy Aging at Banner Research. What does it do?
As a principal investigator in the Banner Research Center for Healthy Aging’s “Longevity Study,” we are exploring the secrets of healthy aging particularly in the over-80 population. Finding what has worked for them will help to establish programs that will educate the younger generation on how to age gracefully.

What improvements to senior care systems have you seen over the past two decades?
The health care organizations and government agencies have recognized the unique needs of the elderly population. Health care delivery systems are incorporating programs directed to the elderly that not only advocate preventive measures to maintain good health, but also to help ensure the best quality of life.

Is there a public figure who you see and say, “That person has really aged well”?
I loved the advice of George Burns, who remained active as he approached 100. He said, “Why retire when you enjoy what you are doing?” My best personal experience was when I attended an event with Art Linkletter, who was in his mid-90s. After most others had left, we remained engaged in conversation well into the evening. I was extremely impressed with his continued vitality and engagement in life.

“If I wasn’t a doctor, I’d be...”
I love people and I love to teach. So anything associated with that would work. When I was younger, I liked to bartend because I enjoyed talking to the patrons. So, who knows, that might be my next career.