There are a couple of things I know for sure since beginning to write my commentary on the book “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande, which I started reading a couple weeks ago.
First, I’m a slow reader. If any of you read my last article and decided to pick up the book, you may have already finished it. I’m halfway through it, but I’ll take credit for recommending such a fascinating read and implore my readers to continue with my column just the same.
Second, I’m living this book as I am reading each page — which may be why I’m so grossly interested in what comes next — while at the same time moving at arthritic-turtle speed so I can reflect on each thought.
Once again, as I wrote this sentence, I received a call from a friend to tell me her mother passed away. Fortunately, she was right there holding her, reassuring her mother with love and compassion. I can’t make this stuff up, folks.
The first few chapters of “Being Mortal” comprise a closer look at the story of aging, which is the story of our parts. Basically, over time, things fall apart. I’m struggling with this myself because as I try to do the necessary things I believe are important to slow down my aging process — eat healthy, exercise, get the rest I need — I also realize that aging is inevitable.
As Gawande writes, “… memory and the ability to gather and weigh multiple ideas — to multitask — peaks in midlife and then gradually declines. Processing speeds start decreasing well before age 40 … By age 85, working memory and judgment are sufficiently impaired that 40 percent of us have textbook dementia.”
Hmmm. I never was good at processing to begin with. I’m afraid I’m in a deep trouble of hurt as I age. And so, with this understanding, what should we be doing? Planning, Gawande says. We need to be planning for our future not as we want it to be, but based on what we know as we age.
Don’t think genetics is going to get you by, either. Inheritance has little influence on longevity. Gawande explains that only 3 percent of how long you will live, compared to the average lifespan, can be attributed to your parents’ longevity. In contrast, up to 90 percent of how tall you are is explained by your parents’ height. He notes, “Even genetically identical twins vary widely in life span; the typical gap is more than 15 years.”
I think people would agree that as medicine has moved forward, we have found better ways to keep people alive. We are good at treating disease and illness. But we still lack in the area of providing quality of life as we age. Making sure people still have purposes along with pulses is what we need to be focusing on now.
Chad Boult was a lead geriatrician in a University of Minnesota study of almost 600 men and women older than 70 who were living independently but at a high risk for becoming disabled because of chronic health issues. He discovered that they key ingredient to living a longer, more-productive and happier life is geriatrics. His team saw that arthritis was controlled, toenails were cut and meals were nutritious. These are simple things that kept people functional, stronger and, best of all, less likely to fall.
There’s still much work to do in the field of geriatrics. Soon we’ll have as many 85-year-old people in this world as we do 5-year-olds. And the field of gerontology is struggling … why?
Stay tuned, my friends …
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