Baby boomers who do not plan to age either gracefully or graciously are giving rise to a new business model of anti-aging clinics.
Several medical spas have opened in Reno of late to deliver the ultimate intangible product: vitality.
“There’s a groundswell of people who want personalized care,” says Mark Gunderson, M.D., medical director at the Age Management Institute in South Meadows. A typical customer, he says, is a baby boomer who’s starting to notice a decline in quality of life.
“Traditional medicine doesn’t have an answer for quality of life,” he says. And now, people are aware there are alternatives.
The most common complaint? Fatigue. “They don’t feel youthful anymore,” says Gunderson. “They feel tired, stressed. Their body is changing. A lot of that is hormones.” The clinic adjusts hormones to high-normal levels, where, Gunderson says, “people feel happy, energetic, vital and active.”
Alternative care providers are no longer few and far between.
“So many people are concerned about their health and what they can do,” says Dawn Gowery, publisher of the 15,000-circulation Healthy Beginnings monthly magazine based at Reno. She’s organized the Health Profes-sional Network, which meets monthly. Members run the gamut of every imaginable service such as natural herbs, hormone testing, raw foods chef, lymphatic drainage, toxin flushing, chiropractic care, and anti-aging acupuncture.
And, Gowery was guest on a KRNV Channel 4 morning news segment on the topic of what else? anti-aging.
Unlike cosmetic surgery, which masks the symptoms of aging, true youth starts from the inside.
“People got so into the quick-fix pill,” says Carol Christian, founder of Reno Alternative Health Care Center. She has practiced colon hydrotherapy for the past 12 years and says, “It takes six months to a year to cleanse.”
“Aging starts when the body becomes toxic due to poor nutrition and dead food,” says Christian. “If you want to stay younger, detoxify your body twice a year.” And, she recommends, eat fresh raw foods; anything heated over 110 degrees is dead food; heat kills enzymes.
Understandably, most people aren’t proactive about undertaking a 30-day cleanse to prevent problems. So it’s not surprising that 50 percent of Christian’s business comes from doctor referrals.
But the line between doctor and esthetician is beginning to blur.
At the Ageless Zone near Meadowood Mall, principal Graham Simpson, M.D., says, “What we’re seeing are the traditional pampering spas and medicine coming together. People want preventive care in a more relaxed environment.”
Despite positive demographics, the anti-aging industry is not all green-light-go.
“Reno isn’t the best place to open a spa due to its small population,” says Simpson.
Also, medical spas are a cash business.
“It’s not like the insurance companies are paying for it,” he says. “You have to price things reasonably. And the machines can be quite expensive.”
And finally, although it took them 50 years to get old, people want a quick fix, he says. “They expect immediate results.”
Clients choose from a smorgasboard of spa and salon services at the Ageless Zone. But in the future, Simpson says, “For a $100 monthly membership fee, we could do a lifestyle management program.”
That’s already the approach at Age Management Institute.
“I look at people’s history: nutritional, medical, and risk factors for chronic disease,” says Gunderson. “We’re really changing their lifestyle.”
Following an initial half-day consultation, which includes scans, a physical, blood work, books, and preliminary program, ongoing management fees range from $100 to $1,500 a year, depending on the complexities.
However, he adds, in response to patient requests, “This year we’re introducing more of the cosmetic side.”
But blurring the lines between clinic and cosmetic causes confusion among the public. The challenge, says Gunderson, is public perception that it’s all puff and no show.
“Bright people, scientifically oriented, realize there’s a lot to this,” he adds.
In the future, Gunderson says, he may develop a training facility for physicians to teach how to incorporate his methods into primary practice.
“We need to spend some of our health care dollars proactively,” he says. “We spend a lot of money at the end 80 percent in the last few years of life.”
The clinic opened in early 2004.
“The first week I got one patient,” says Gunderson. “Now I don’t even advertise. It’s taken off like a skyrocket.”
The market is huge. A baby boomer turns 50 every 7.6 seconds. Launched in 1993 with just 12 physicians, the Chicago-based American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine now boasts a membership of 5,000.
While anti-aging medicine is a multi-billion dollar industry nationwide, the International Longevity Center-USA cautions the industry it is under the control of non-scientists who use terms like “virtual immortality” and “an ageless society” to attract customers.
In many instances, the center affiliated with the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City says practitioners rely on untested remedies that have not withstood the rigors of serious clinical trials and that often have dangerous side effects.
And, a report by the center cites a panel of gerontologists who observed that anti-aging medicine promotes and reinforces ageism, putting a “profoundly negative connotation on the very occurrence of aging, emphasizing its negative and depleting aspects and denying all that is enriching and positive about aging in the psychosocial sphere.”
Even without scientific breakthroughs, a panel at the longevity center estimates that people in industrialized countries could achieve at least a 10-year increase in average life expectancy by simply eating less and exercising more.
“We did a lot of very, very difficult evaluation over a very, very short amount of time and just concluded that this was the right thing for the company at large.”