Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Medicine Coming of Age

Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Medicine Coming of Age

Article excerpt

It's not easy growing old. Despite medicine's dramatic success in recent decades, the impact of these familiar words remains undiminished. With the number of elderly growing rapidly, many are asking that medicine pay more attention to the elderly's unique needs. The challenge, however, is that aging itself is not a disease, and the success of medical treatments may involve factors beyond usual medical care.

Progress has been made regarding diseases that most often affect the elderly. Conditions that used to be dismissed merely as old age and senility are now being identified and treated as diseases. But treatment of disease becomes more complicated and multifaceted when the patient is elderly. There's often not one best solution to a medical problem; indeed, treatment may require more than a straightforward medical answer.

One example of this involves malnutrition. Dr. Howard Fillit of the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City estimates that up to 40 percent of the sick elderly he sees are malnourished, even though they often don't realize it (New York Times, 10 October 1992). "If they were objective, they would see themselves as skeletons," Fillit claims, "but they just see themselves as old." The problem is compounded by the fact that malnutrition for the elderly is difficult to define or even to recognize, according to geriatrician Dr. James Cooper of the National Institute on Aging. …

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