With the population of the aging skyrocketing over the past few years more & more thought leaders are looking at what it means to care for the aging. Physician and Harvard Medical School Professor, Atul Gawande, is exceptionally qualified to share his opinion and analysis of death, dying and living while dying. Speaking from both his professional background and his personal situation of caring for aging parents, Gawande makes a particularly relevant case for a revamping of the ‘nursing’ home concept of caring for the elderly.
Your chances of avoiding the nursing home are directly related to the number of children you have.
We’ve been wrong about what our job is in medicine. We think our job is to ensure health and survival. But really it is larger than that. It is to enable well-being.
Of particular note to me was Gawande made it clear that the nursing home method is the least favorable. Yes, there are some really great nursing homes to be found – the problem comes when patients in the nursing home are required to adhere to the nursing home schedule – eat at this time, sleep at that time, wake up at this time, etc. etc. Of course for the ease of caring for all the patients a regimented schedule is necessary, but I know that I for one would resist every second of it.
The situation is not entirely bleak as Gawande shares in the last few chapters. There are people such as Karen Wilson and Dr. Bill Thomas being true innovators in the care of senior adults & end-of-life care.
…terminally ill cancer patients who were put on a mechanical ventilator, given electrical defibrillation or chest compressions, or admitted, near death, to intensive care had a substantially worse quality of life in their last week than those who received no such interventions. And, six months after their death, their caregivers were three times as likely to suffer major depression.
Our reluctance to honestly examine the experience of aging and dying has increased the harm we inflict on people and denied them the basic comforts they most need.
I’m having a difficult time narrowing down the quotes to include as I write this review. So much in Being Mortal is not only great writing but conversations that we should be having, in our families, our communities, and society.
Why I read Being Mortal?
My daughter is hosting a Death Over Dinner event and to prepare for the conversation I thought this book would be truly enlightening. I had no idea how much I would learn! While I’ve had a plan in place for years in case the multiple sclerosis gets so bad I have to have constant nursing care, reading about the nursing homes has me terrified of being stuck in one! My son who has worked for 3 years providing music therapy in nursing homes teases me that he’s already got mine picked out! But seriously, this book woke me up to how much more I need to communicate with my sweetheart and my children about end-of-life wishes.
This book is best for
Anyone with aging parents; anyone aging; anyone concerned with the ever-increasing aging population; anyone who works with the aging…..
The book itself is a tremendous resource, giving us 4 key questions to consider and/or ask when faced with end-of-life decisions.
- What is your understanding of the situation and its potential outcomes?
- What are your fears and what are your hopes?
- What are the trade-offs you are willing to make and not willing to make?
- And, what is the course of action that best serves this understanding?
Karen Wilson, founder of first assisted living home in Oregon
Dr. Bill Thomas, founder of The Green House Project
Atul Gawande’s website has a wealth of research, articles and video.
Atul Gawande on Twitter