Is it Better to do Nothing or–at least–Less?
A Woman Rejects Mammograms at a Certain Age
A friend just drove to upstate New York to be with her 70-some-year-old mother who was having a lumpectomy. While her mother didn’t want her to make the trip, she was glad to do it so she could help out a bit. That’s what daughters do, right?
I thought about Sr. Advisor, R, who in her early 90’s, decided against any more mammograms–period. Her rationale: if they found something suspicious she wasn’t going to do anything about it anyway, so why impact her life with knowledge that would only cause stress and concern–for herself and for those around her. When R died in her sleep at 101, it was assumed old age was the reason.
What about Dental Work?
While keeping our own teeth as long as possible and having regular dental check-ups are important, one of my brother’s better decisions was to forgo taking Dad, age 92, to the dentist who wanted to pull a tooth. The tooth was not bothering Dad, but X’rays showed there was potential for problems according to Dad’s dentist. In fact, I had taken Dad to the appointment when that dentist first suggested the extraction.
Dad was very conscientious about taking care of his teeth.. To me–and my brother–it made sense to wait until Dad felt some problem, rather than expose him to anesthesia and all that was necessary for the extraction. Dad had no other teeth problems, and still had that potentially problematic tooth when he died at 94.
The point is (and this is not medical advice, simply our experience): Sometimes there’s a delicate balance between doing and not doing where the elderly are concerned. When we’re young we recover faster, heal faster, and adjust to whatever insults our body sustains–faster.
Doctors and others in the health professions, especially those whose patients are mostly middle-age and younger, may not think about the increased fragility of old people. It then falls to us to weigh all the factors, discuss them with elderly loved ones and–of course–their doctors and dentists.
We may not save lives, but we can raise awareness with doctors and dentists and hopefully choose the best timely options for aging parents when it comes to certain health issues. When procedures are elective and appropriate for the elderly and professionals understand the old age factor, it should help parents age well until the end.
Related: “Mastectomy vs Lumpectomy: Is Bigger Better? “–UCLA doctors’ Webinar October 2016
I very much agree with the decision to refuse elective surgery when patients are of an advanced age. Any treatment should be approached with caution. I am enjoying reading these articles involving the very old!
Really important blog, we become so quick to jump and fix any potential problem in our youth and middle age that we forget this is not always the best approach when you are older, it can be better to be more cautious and ask if certain procedures are actually necessary. Taking preventative measures are still helpful, from regular check ups to an alarm button in the home.