Friday, June 14, 2019
Society gives short shrift to older age. This distinct phase of life doesn’t get the same attention that’s devoted to childhood. And the special characteristics of people in their 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond are poorly understood.
Medicine reflects this narrow-mindedness. In medical school, physicians learn that people in the prime of life are “normal” and scant time is spent studying aging. In practice, doctors too often fail to appreciate older adults’ unique needs or to tailor treatments appropriately.
The story focuses on a new book by a doctor, “Elderhood" which is "an in-depth, unusually frank exploration of biases that distort society’s view of old age and that shape dysfunctional health policies and medical practices." The rest of the article is a Q&A interview with the author focusing on her idea of "elderhood", how she sees her concepts working, and ageism. Using an anecdote, the author offers it as an example of "ageism: dismissing an older person’s concerns simply because the person is old. It happens all the time." Here is another example the author offers
Recently, a distressed geriatrician colleague told me a story about grand rounds at a major medical center where the case of a very complex older patient brought in from a nursing home was presented. [Grand rounds are meetings where doctors discuss interesting or difficult cases.]
When it was time for comments, one of the leaders of the medical service stood up and said, “I have a solution to this case. We just need to have nursing homes be 100 miles away from our hospitals.” And the crowd laughed.
The interview does have some optimistic insights, including "the age-friendly health system movement, which is unquestionably a step in the right direction. And a whole host of startups that could make various types of care more convenient and that could, if they succeed, end up benefiting older people."