Category Archives: What do we die of and when?

People are still dying of old age. What are the damn medics doing about it?

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

 

 
 
 

Extracts from an excellent article in the Washington Post: 

I know where this phone call is going. I’m on the hospital wards, and a physician in the emergency room downstairs is talking to me about an elderly patient who needs to be admitted to the hospital. The patient is new to me, but the story is familiar: He has several chronic conditions — heart failure, weak kidneys, anemia, Parkinson’s and mild dementia — all tentatively held in check by a fistful of medications. He has been falling more frequently, and his appetite has fallen off, too. Now a stroke threatens to topple this house of cards.The ER physician and I talk briefly about what can be done. The stroke has driven the patient’s blood pressure through the roof, aggravating his heart failure, which in turn is threatening his fragile kidneys. The stroke is bad enough that, given his disabilities related to his Parkinson’s, he will probably never walk again. In elderly patients with a web of medical conditions, the potential complications of any therapy are often large and the benefits small. It’s a medical checkmate; all moves end in abdication.

I head to the ER. If I’m lucky, the family will accept the news that, in a time when we can separate conjoined twins and reattach severed limbs, people still wear out and die of old age. If I’m lucky, the family will recognize that their loved one’s life is nearing its end.

We want our loved ones to live as long as possible, but our culture has come to view death as a medical failure rather than life’s natural conclusion.

Suffering is like a fire: Those who sit closest feel the most heat; a picture of a fire gives off no warmth. That’s why it’s typically the son or daughter who has been physically closest to an elderly parent’s pain who is the most willing to let go.

At a certain stage of life, aggressive medical treatment can become sanctioned torture. When a case such as this comes along, nurses, physicians and therapists sometimes feel conflicted and immoral. We’ve committed ourselves to relieving suffering, not causing it. A retired nurse once wrote to me: “I am so glad I don’t have to hurt old people any more.”

 

Read the whole article here.

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Comin’ for to carry you home

Monday, 2 November 2009

The Office if National Statistics (ONS) is beginning to release detailed stats showing who died of what last year. Fascinating. We’ll all be one of those, one day.

All sorts of things I didn’t know. Twice as many women die of Alzheimer’s than men—a factor of men dying so much younger, I suppose. I was surprised by the number of perinatal deaths; I thought there were more. Gosh, 87 men died last year of breast cancer…

The NHS enables you to do a little light prognosticating on your own behalf. Have a play with its Atlas of Risk here.

Have a pore over the ONS spreadsheet here.

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