19 April 2009

The walker and the dancer

Updated (see below)

After my hip-replacement operation in October, I spent a week in a "rehabilitation facility" (actually a nursing home for the elderly, although its facilities were also well-suited for helping people convalescing from surgery) to regain strength and be taught how to cope with the physical limitations which would remain for the first few weeks back at home. When I left, they gave me a walker -- the sort of metal frame with wheels which one occasionally sees being used by people too feeble to stand unassisted, to lean on while walking. I used it for a couple of weeks until I was able to walk normally.

A week ago I took the walker back to the rehabilitation facility. They had not implied that I should return it, but I haven't needed it for months, and I knew they could use it.

Being in that place again, even for just a few minutes, brought back memories -- and more.

As frustrating as it had sometimes been when I had stayed there, being so enfeebled and dependent on strangers to help me with the simplest tasks, I had at least known that I would be leaving in a few days and be back to a normal life in a few weeks. Most of the other residents were all-too-obviously never "going back" to anything. Weakened and crippled by their extreme old age, and in many cases clearly suffering from substantial loss of brain functionality for the same reason, they would never be able to live independent lives again. All of those who were there during my brief stay in October must still have been there when I went back last week -- except for any who had died in the meantime.

It drew my thoughts back to what can sometimes get lost among the distracting issues of the day: the absolute importance of the long struggle ahead, to eradicate this abomination which is now by far the greatest cause of human suffering and death throughout the world.

While that technological revolution may yet take twenty or thirty years to be fully realized (I'm actually more optimistic, given the way computers will revolutionize all of biotechnology in the near future), impressive work is being done right now.

New drugs and less-invasive surgical procedures are continuing to extend the typical lifespan:

When Dorothy Newcombe fell ill with heart disease at the age of 92, her family thought she had reached the end of her natural lifespan.....After a new treatment particularly targeted at the elderly, Dorothy is still going strong.....

At the same time other advances are offering a new lease of active healthy life to the middle-aged. Authors of a new study into the “polypill”, a combination of five drugs, say the treatment could potentially halve the number of heart attacks and strokes among the middle-aged.....

It's important to emphasize that these advances are not merely prolonging the period of decrepitude at the end of life, but adding more healthy years in the middle, so to speak:

Elderly people today were enjoying an unprecedented quality of life and health, and the cost of caring for them would not rise but fall as life expectancy increased over the next few decades.....

The latest evidence indicated that people who lived to great ages did not spend significantly longer in hospital or long-term care homes than those who died younger, suggesting that their overall impact on health costs was negligible. Those who died at 90 had to spend only twice as many days in hospital during their lives as those who died at 45, and there was hardly any differ-ence between those who died in their seventies and nineties.....

Extending an individual's healthy and active life for even just five or ten years means that that person will still exist to benefit from an additional five to ten years of further progress in health and anti-aging technology -- and so on, and so on.

How far can active life -- the kind of life that's trully worth living -- be extended now?

Dorothy is still going strong. She goes shopping with her 94-year-old husband, George, does the housework and is back playing bingo at the local church hall. Dorothy, from Liver-pool, has even managed to dance a few steps of a waltz again.....

Not bad for a 92-year-old who, remember, would already have died from heart trouble were it not for a treatment that only just became available. This is what we can do today. The good news is that far more of us will still be here for the real revolution as it unfolds over the next quarter-century.

Update: Here's an article by a scientist actually working in the field, Prof. David Sinclair of Harvard Medical School, explaining a specific line of current research (one of many) in terms easily understood even by readers without specialized knowledge.

3 Comments:

Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

Howdy Mr.Infidel!

Pretty interesting little story about your view in this rehab facility or whatever their called, and about the post operative physical therapuetic's...or what ever their called... I never had experienced that is why. I do know it's not cheap! It was considerate of you to give back the walker, some might have sold it in these times! :) But ... good to see ya doin well ...they apparently got the job done and done it well ... I am sure when you seen the invoices/bill's ... they didnt let you forget it. (just kiddin .. I know it was worth it) :)

Anywayz ... interesting...at least to me.... was when you termed coming changes in medicine/sciences,etc as the "real revolution". I never thought about it before.... but you made a good point, because I reckon this will be a sort of revolution as far as what were moving into. I am not scientifically knowledgeable as yourself...but I DO know that this is coming...actually did for some time.... nor when it would arrive unfortuneately. But also you mentioned how the technologies are speeding up the pace of progress. This is something that I wondered about time again... because I have noticed as far as medical small breakthrough's ...they have been coming out of the woodwork now with our new sciences and technologies...and I been wondering if many miracle's as far as medical breakthrough's may even come sooner then we may think? In other word's...I try to imagine at the rate we are moving now....just in only 10 year's what we will have accomplished...I start to think...alot more than we may expect ... especially on thing's like how cancer is treated and your big item's like heart disease. It's really fascinating as hell ... and alot of fun thinking about! I mean ...look at all we learned in the last 20 year's compared to the 100 year's prior...heh,heh,heh... were in high gear Bubba!

We fight so much over money, politic's,petty social issue's,morality, and a schlew of other pointless crap...because of this system we have set up and the bad apples...such as all these culture and religious groups who keep us on fire with this crap.Science and technologies... especially the ones you talk about from time to time...should be the most important investment... the quicker we can excell in this...the quicker we will be able to deal with upcoming obstacle's. And sooner or later...especially because of this global warming (this is only my opinion) we are going to be confronted possibly with viruses that evolve so fast, that million's may die before we can get to them. Why? Because they are also about survival,maybe even airborn. No .. I am not a paranoid nut... I am just looking at the entire picture, and we need to be ready!

I'll plug it now... Thank You Sir

20 April, 2009 07:16  
Anonymous rita said...

Interesting links and a worthy subject.
My experience in my old job watching many elderly people age over a period of years & succumb ultimately at 90+, gave me some insight into what helps people live into their 90's. A consistently healthy life style and regular good habits is the biggest factor I think. A stress free life including no money worries also seems to be a big +. Getting out & keeping in contact with other human beings is good, and also having the option of being independent. Combine all of that with modern medicine and yeah a persons life span will be extended dramatically. I've also seen in my limited experience what happens to a body that has been abused by bad habits... it fall apart pretty quick.

I thought this was interesting "we are also living to an “unnatural age” because technology has defied nature.

“In the Stone Age men and women died in their thirties, once they had had children, because they were not needed by evolution to carry on. Now health technology wipes out evolution and we are into an unnatural stage. No one was meant to live to this age,” Sikora said."
I don't know if I agree that this is unnatural. Perhaps some of our current ideas of evolution are in danger of being outmoded like some of our current ideas of religion?

20 April, 2009 07:41  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

RC -- It never even occurred to me to try to sell the walker. I suppose it wouldn't have been unethical, but I don't know how much I could have gotten for it.

Insurance paid for the rehab stay. It would not have paid for any additional hospital time, which is why I went to the rehab place.

Rita -- Evolution never "meant" us to wear clothes, or take medicine, or read and write, or be able to travel to another continent in a few hours. All those things are just as "unnatural" as using modern technology to live to 90, or future technology to live to 190.

To look at it another way, every animal has naturally evolved with various tools for survival, and in our case, the main tool is intelligence. So everything we do with that intelligence to extend our lives and protect ourselves is "natural".

20 April, 2009 08:09  

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