I am beginning to wonder to what extent the so-called problems of our ageing society can be attributed to the attitude of those responsible for our health. I remember there was a big break through in health care a few decades ago when it occurred to doctors that they should be dealing with patients, not diseases. Up until then the person attached to the ailment wasn’t even considered.
Today’s doctors seem to be making the same mistake with their ageing patients. Because our numbers are growing we should be large enough to be considered to be a branch of medicine on our own, with our own, different problems. The most obvious difference is that much of our ill-health is a result of ageing body parts, suffering from overuse and extended use. Yet the only doctors being trained in this new branch of medicine appear to be new trainees, and only some of them get this training. Most doctors underwent their training before ageing as a separate branch of medicine was recognised and nothing is being done to update their training.
I was reminded of this whilst watching a 104 year old on television. She loves sport, particularly throwing ones such as discus and javelin. She participates in the Masters Games in these events. Her doctor is advising her to give them up because she is developing heart problems. It sounds as though she is being asked to give up the love of her life so that she can live longer even though she is already 104! What quality of life would she have without her sport? Are we being encouraged to keep on living no matter the quality of our lives, even at 104?
Do doctors really understand that whatever our age physical and mental fitness go hand in hand? I am getting some responses in to my request for people over 65 to tell me about the positives and negatives of ageing for them (YourStory@over65.net) and they are mixed, with some saying they have no negatives and others no positives. I wondered if it was an age difference but I now think it may be more dependant on physical fitness and the extent to which people exercise. We know that physical and mental health are closely connected; the brain in particular thrives on a good oxygen supply which comes from exercising.
How many doctors arrange for their older patients to have access to some form of exercise remembering that gyms are financially (and physically) out of reach, particularly for pensioners? I suspect they don’t have either the training or knowledge to do this, even though it applies to over half of their consultations each day.
It is always a mystery to me that to enrol in medicine school they have to be among the brightest students yet when they go out into GP practice, the gateway and most important access to specialist care, they seem to have had their abilities drummed out of them. Maybe it’s our fault that we look up to the specialists but not to our G.P.’s who are responsible for most of our health care and therefore the health of our nation, including its rapidly growing older sector.