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January 2015    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 30, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Aging Divers Have Their Limits

hereís how our readers deal with them

from the January, 2015 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

We received a lot of information from Undercurrent readers about aging and diving, which we turned into our November story, "Are You Too Old to Dive?" That brought more feedback, as additional readers chimed in with their thoughts, suggestions and comments about the health hazards of being an older diver.

Michael Zagachin (Peabody, MA) has this advice: Get into diving shape, no matter how old you are. "I am a 67-year-old diver who cycles 5,000 miles a year, riding 60 miles per time on average. When winter comes, it is cross-country skiing up and down the New Hampshire hills. And in the off-season, I alternate between the weight room and the pool before work every day."

Most divers won't replicate Zagachin's regimen, but staying in shape is key because diving is a true stressor. In fact, the most prevalent cause of diving deaths is a heart attack. As Zagachin adds, "I have never seen more unfit, fat and borderline obese people than on dive boats. Sometimes they are young and are diving because that is the only activity that requires no fitness whatsoever."

When we review causes of deaths, we find that many who have died diving have undetected heart disease because they failed to have checkups. John Miller (Lubbock, TX), a 66-year-old dive instructor and public safety diver, does it right. "I am a Type II diabetic, a little overweight, and have to watch my blood pressure, so I get my internal medicine doctor to look me over twice a year. He tries to limit my depth to 100 feet, and I abide by that. Besides, the best pictures are obtained at 20 feet or less."

After reading our story, Ben Glick (Williamstown, MA) says he is now more cautious about diving. "As a 75-year-old diver, I recently pondered whether I should sign up for a two-week trip in Raja Ampat. Having 1500-plus dives and being in good health, I decided to go for it. I did, however, take out trip insurance!"

Because too many divers don't properly monitor their own health, some operators raise health issues during the booking process. Mike Ball's operation in Australia presented John Keith (Logan, UT) and his wife some serious requirements, unlike those you would find with just about any other operation outside of Australia. "Once they learned our ages and that we take blood pressure medicine, they sent a three-page health form to fill out, and required a hyperbaric-certified doctor (there's only one in Utah) to do various tests, which included a stress EKG with sonogram, a respiratory function test, several other physical and mental tests, and a certification by the doctor that we were fit to dive. Even at that, the dive shop limited our choice of dives to the less rigorous trips. While I felt their examination requirements were a little excessive, I now carry a copy of that physical with me just in case, but I haven't been asked for it since. By the way, my Medicare supplemental insurance paid for most of the cost."

As divers age, many tend to reduce the difficulty of their dives. No more pulling oneself over the gunnels of a Zodiac. No more surprise downcurrents. No more four dives a day. No more climbing on board still packing weights and tanks. Linda Delayen (Yorktown, VA) asks this question: Is there any place that caters to old divers? "I'm sure I'm not the only former diver who would love to continue but knows her body just isn't up to the more strenuous aspects that can and do come up. If there were a place that recognized that when people age, they don't have the same strength they once possessed and did dives with gentle entry and exits, I might try again."

Linda, I'm not aware of any venue that caters strictly to older divers, but I have a few suggestions as you search. Dedicated dive resorts tend to have older divers, because younger people want to do more than just dive. So in the Caribbean, places like Roatan's CocoView or Pirate's Point on Little Cayman sport older crowds and divemasters who are used to catering to them.

High-end hotels attract older people, and those with dive programs generally have big boats and cautious diving, and are accustomed to helping people who want help. Some handle quite a few divers -- Cousteau's Fiji resort comes to mind -- but others, such as the Caneel Bay Resort in St. John, Anse Chastanet in St. Lucia or Harbour Village on Bonaire, run simple and comfortable diving, due to the age or relative inexperience of their divers. Then again, Bonaire has easy diving, and most hotel dive operations take good care of their aging divers.

Dive operations that offer concierge diving are accustomed to carrying and setting up gear, and helping divers in and out of the water. Look up a couple destinations that interest you in our reader reports or Chapbook, and you'll be able to sort out a few that will suit you.

And have fun. That's what it's all about.

-- Ben Davison

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