I recently had coffee with a man who was in town visiting his elderly mom. We chatted about his mom’s wonderful life, some of her recent health challenges, and generally how she is faring alone in her own home (which she’s lived in for some 50 years). Physically, her eyesight is failing, and she has the occasional “run-in” with the bathtub or uneven patio block in the yard. Mentally, she’s sharp as a tack. Slightly forgetful—we all have our moments!—but she can recall stories from her earlier years in great detail. And, most importantly, she is happy. We talked about how long she might remain in her own home. I suggested that a consideration one day might be her personal safety. I think I struck a nerve.
The man was reading Being Mortal, a book that challenges health and safety as the traditional priorities of the elderly. He talked so passionately about the book and its impact on his views about his mom’s situation that I immediately drove to Chapter’s after our coffee date and started reading it that very night.
Written by a doctor, Being Mortal explores how doctors and medicine don’t always serve the best interests of the elderly in their late stages of life. We tend to want to extend life as long as possible, and we call on doctors to help us do this. Through personal experience and research, Author Atul Gawande suggests that we consider quality over quantity, and he concludes that medicine alone doesn’t provide all the answers. According to Gawande, “The most cruel failure in how we treat the sick and the aged is the failure to recognize that they have priorities beyond merely being safe and living longer … that the chance to shape one’s story is essential to sustaining meaning in life.” He believes that doctors and families can do better. In Being Mortal, he offers insight into having the hard conversations necessary to tap into what’s most meaningful for an individual.
When it comes to care and living situations for the elderly in their late stages of life, it’s complicated and it’s personal.
Being Mortal is a must-read for all families of elderly loved ones and really for anyone wanting to live as rich a life as possible to the end.
Read more about the author and book online.