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Elderly should be regarded with love, respect and compassion, not as labels for disease, says aging expert


Aging gracefully

(NaturalNews) Nortin M. Hadler, M.D., is an expert on growing old and living well in a society notorious for over-treating and over-prescribing. In his book, Worried Sick, the aging expert encourages readers to speak up when dealing with healthcare providers, and to ask plenty of questions about whether or not a proposed treatment will yield any meaningful benefits.

Learning to distinguish good medical advice from persuasive medical marketing can help people make better decisions about personal healthcare, says Hadler, Emeritus Professor of Medicine and Microbiology/Immunology at the University of North Carolina. The following is an excerpt from the book:

Daily, we are offered the image of the baby-boom generation going on forever, making impossible demands on successive generations to provide pensions, health care, and community. That, too, is fatuous.

However, more of us are living longer than did our parents. Clearly, the likelihood that we will enjoy life as an octogenarian has increased over the course of the twentieth century. Far less clear is whether the likelihood of becoming a nonagenarian has increased similarly.

Living well as an octogenarian

It has certainly not done so at anything like the same rate as the likelihood of being an octogenarian. The effect is so striking that it has caused many of us to wonder if there is not a fixed longevity for our species, set around eighty-five years of age.

Some have likened this to a warranty: you are off warranty at eighty-five, beyond is a bonus, and well beyond is a statistical oddity. This projected demographic is consistent with current population trends.

With one caveat, these hard facts seem unlikely to change. It is possible that molecular biology can alter the fixed longevity of our species. But don't hold your breath. None of us will live to see that and maybe no one ever will.

Eighty-five appears to be the programmed life expectancy for our species. I grant that the science is imperfect. But eighty-five is a linchpin of my personal philosophy of life. I, for one, do not care how many diseases I harbor on my eighty-fifth birthday, though I prefer not to know that they are creeping up on me. I, for one, do not care which of these diseases carries me off as long as the leaving is gentle and the legacy meaningful.

Perhaps the best we can reasonably hope for is eighty-five years of life free of morbidities that overwhelm our wherewithal to cope, then to die in our sleep on our eighty-fifth birthday.

Unfortunately, not all of us will arrive at our eighty-fifth birthday with tranquility or, having done so, have a peaceful passing. Fortunate, indeed, are the octogenarians of today who have the wits and faculties to contend with life's demands. But time soon whittles away even their higher level of functional capacity.


Friendship, community and love are defensible as prescriptions

Month by month they face days when they do not perform as usual and even feel the need to take to bed. Inexorably, activities of daily living, activities they always took for granted, become an insurmountable challenge.

They will come to take their place among the frail elderly. They will lean on canes by the graveside of their friends. They do not merit a disease label, such as "Alzheimer's"; they merit awe, compassion, and community.

The hope is faint that contemporary medical science will shepherd more of the high-functioning octogenarians into the very meager ranks of the high-functioning nonagenarians. It is, however, possible to provide comfort and support for these octogenarians through the transition toward decrepitude and in their final passage.

Friendship, community, and love are defensible as prescriptions, clinical interventions, and targets for public policy and expenditure. To advocate otherwise, including measures purporting to increase the lifespan beyond eighty-five, is to harbor delusions of immortality. Heroic efforts on behalf of the highly functioning octogenarians will accomplish little of substance.

We can, perhaps, alter the proximate cause of death, that is, the diagnosis on the death certificate, but I am aware of no data to support the premise that we can alter the date of death. This is not to advocate therapeutic nihilism.

It is the invoking of the age-old ethic of medicine to contend with the reality of our aging and our mortality. When the high-functioning octogenarian declines, it is because her or his time is nearing.

When death supervenes, it is because it is her or his time. That is the real proximate cause of death. It does not matter how many diseases are vying for coupe de grace. It only matters that the journey was as gratifying as possible.


Sources:

Hadler, Nortin M. (2008) Worried Sick: A Prescription for Health in an Overtreated America (University of North Carolina Press)

Science.NaturalNews.com

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