With 6,000 Americans turning 65 every day, editors of the esteemed Merck Manual of Medical Diagnosis have produced The Merck Manual of Health and Aging ($29.95, Merck Research Laboratories), the series' first guide to growing older.


The heft here -- in authority and pages (1,000) -- owes to a distinguished editorial board, including Brown University geriatrics expert Richard Besdine and Robert Butler, founding director of the National Institute on Aging. The tome also features a large typeface and generous space between lines to accommodate aging eyes.


The book covers medical, ethical and social issues, including diet, intimacy, prescription drugs and complementary medicine; medical conditions such as dizziness and fractures; and advance directives. An extensive resource section contains a Medicare primer, listings of service groups and a drug glossary.


While the book talks some about healthy aging, the bulk of material concerns the medical care of the frail and the sick. Despite the inclusion of 15 personal essays on growing old, don't expect much in the way of comic relief. The volume is unrelenting in its soberness, especially as regards dementia, mistreatment and death.


Like its fellow manuals, the hardcover version will be updated every five years, say the editors. In about a year, they add, the book will also be available free online at, and the editors will add updates periodically.