My article this month is actually a book review. We recently received a copy of a new book, “Elderhood,” written by Dr. Louise Aronson, a geriatrician.
Aronson practices medicine in San Francisco and is a graduate of Harvard Medical School. In her book, she tells us about how she decided to become a geriatrician after witnessing the great need for this type of medical specialty.
As a publication dedicated to serving people over the age of 50, we frequently have valuable stories for our readers about medical care. Aronson’s book confronts the difference in health that occurs as a person advances in age.
We spend more time as an older person than in any other age group. We start off as infants, then grow into childhood, preteens, teenagers, young adults, adults, middle age and, finally, old age.
When old age begins is debatable. I asked 10 adults to tell me at what age they believe old age begins. Two respondents said 50, three gave 55, two 60 and three said 65. Thanks to advances in medicine and people becoming aware of the value of proper diet and exercise, we are living longer. If we are 60 and we live to be 85, this means we will be in the old-age bracket for 25 years.
Aronson points out in her book how different older adults respond to medicine. For example, some over-the-counter medicine will have a warning that goes something like this: “Do not give to anyone under 12 years of age or to anyone who operates heavy machinery or while driving.” But there are no warning labels that say do not take if you are over the age of 65. And yet many older adults have negative reactions to such medications.
She also points out that before new drugs are approved by the Food and Drug Administration, they must go through clinical trials. The average age for participants in clinical trials is age 47. And when that medicine, tested by a person whose average age is 47, is given to someone who is 77 there can be a totally different outcome.
For example, my wife had partial knee replacements on both knees. One replacement was about 15 years ago and the other seven years ago. When going through the recovery process for the second knee, she had a negative reaction to the pain medication. The pain medication caused more pain than the surgery.
“Elderhood” is a very impressive book. I hope every medical doctor in Memphis has a chance to read it. If they do, they will become even better medical professionals.
James K. Grubbs is the publisher of The Best Times