Last week, I was alerted to an important new book via Judith Graham's Navigating Aging column at Kaiser Health Network.
[EDITORIAL NOTE: Judith is a friend and journalist who has reported on aging and health issues for most of her career. Last November, she published a column about my blogging about my terminal cancer.]
The book in question is titled, Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life and is about ageism in medicine, something I have been known to rail against in these pages for all the 15 years I've been writing this blog.
The author, Dr. Louise Aronson, is a geriatrician, a professor of medicine at the University of California-San Francisco and a writer. Judith sat down with Dr. Aronson for an interview about her new book. Three short excerpts:
First, I was knocked out to hear a doctor finally saying out loud what many of us laymen interested in ageing have known and been repeating for many years:
”People age differently — in different ways and at different rates. Sometimes people skip stages. Or they move from an earlier stage to a later stage but then move back again,” said Dr. Aronson.
If you've been around this blog for a good while, you have probably read words similar or almost identical to those of Dr. Aronson ad nauseum. That's because they are true and bear restating until people get it. But it carries a lot more weight coming from a physician.
Here's another from Dr. Aronson about something that drives me nuts:
”Medicine pretends that this part of life isn’t really different from young adulthood or middle age. But it is. And that needs a lot more recognition than it currently gets.”
No kidding. In addition to all the obvious physical changes, we aren't even included in many drug trials so doctors can only guess at what dosage and frequency to assign to a 60- or 70- or 80-year-old body. Good luck with that.
And third, blatant ageism, which too many people who willingly campaign against racism and sexism, for example, refuse to recognize. Dr. Aronson:
”Do you know the famous anecdote about the 97-year-old man with the painful left knee? He goes to a doctor who takes a history and does an exam. There’s no sign of trauma, and the doctor says, 'Hey, the knee is 97 years old. What do you expect?'
“And the patient says, 'But my right knee is 97 and it doesn’t hurt a bit.'
“That’s ageism: dismissing an older person’s concerns simply because the person is old. It happens all the time.”
Dr. Aronson has more compelling things to say about medicine and ageism. You can read Judith's entire interview here.
I'm pleased to report that in my two years of treatment at Oregon Health & Sciences University, not once have I run into an instance of ageism. Of course, I'm being treated mainly in the oncology unit and I'd guess if you choose that specialty with which to make your career, you had better like old people – we get most of the cancers.
Dr. Aronson has been compared – as well she should be - to Atul Gawande and the late Oliver Sacks, two other doctor-authors I greatly admire. Dr. Aronson's book will be published next Tuesday, 11 June and I've got it on pre-order.
You can find Judith Graham's full archive of KHN Navigating Aging columns here.
I'll leave you today with this lecture by Dr. Aronson speaking in Dublin at a dotMD conference in 2014, published in March 2019 to YouTube. She is an engaging speaker, her points are compelling and no medical jargon allowed.