Recently, when I took my nine year old miniature Schnauzer, Mario, in to the vet for a routine checkup and follow up on shots I was handed a plastic envelope with a green band filled with printed materials. When I asked what it was I was told my treasured dog had, by reason of his age, now reached “senior dog” status and the printed materials inside included all sorts of information regarding what I should be looking for to determine if he was or would be experiencing health problems associated with older dogs. I take it that “senior dog” status is somewhat different from the “top dog” status that I generally assign to him.
The fact that I was given such information on his behalf was truly comical if you know or ever knew my dog. Even as the envelope was handed to me he was jumping and prancing all over the waiting room at the vet’s office, exploring, trying to make friends with humans and animals alike. If a dog could be ADHD, and I assume one could be, that might be my dog. Many puppies could rightfully be jealous of his energy and, here I was receiving materials indicating that the prime of his life could be behind him.
I raise this experience because, as an elder law attorney, it got me to thinking “do people think this way about other people when it comes to medical treatment?” Of course, they do. Patients might not necessarily be handed a plastic envelope with a green band containing a wealth of materials describing all of the terrible conditions they might develop as an older person but the subcontext could be “well, you have arrived at a given age and, therefore, we should look out for the following.” How many misdiagnoses might arise because of this we do not know.
A number of studies have indicated that, when people are surrounded by an environment that is positive and not geared to focusing on age, they tend to remain younger longer. This does not rule out the possibility that we could have certain conditions relating to the aging process but we should not jump to conclusions in every case saying “I feel this way because I am getting older.” Maybe not. It could be something else and sometimes we have to listen to our own experience.
In Grow Younger, Live Longer, a book by Deepak Chopra, MD and David Simon, MD, (2001, Harmony Books) the authors discuss escaping the prison of conditioning arguing that people expect to age in a certain way and the expectation to some extent begins to play itself out, what we might refer to as a self-fulfilling prophecy. While there are some markers Chopra and Simon differentiate chronological age, biological age and psychological age. Grow Younger, Live Longer followed a prior book by Chopra titled Ageless Body, Timeless Mind. I would recommend both as good reads.
Another doctor who questioned aging myths is Mark Lachs, MD, who also authored a book, Treat Me, Not My Age (2010, Viking Press). The subtitle is A Doctor’s Guide to Getting the Best Care As You Or a Loved One Gets Older. Note that he said “older” not “old.” Dr. Lach repeats the funny experience where his mother-in-law repeatedly asks him if he is a “real” doctor since he is a geriatrician which he describes as a physician who provides care to older people and support to their families. He notes he is also an internist.
The book Treat Me, Not My Age begins with a humorous note quoting another physician Robert N. Butler, MD, as follows:
“Morris says to his doctor, ‘my right knee hurts.’
‘How old are you now, Morris?’ asks the doctor.
‘I’m 101,’ he replies.
‘Well, what do you expect at your age?’
Morris pauses for a second, then rises in anger.
‘The problem with that, Doc, is that my left knee is also 101, and it doesn’t hurt at all!’”
I remember in my own family my mother complaining of pain and a doctor writing it off to age. Enough said. It cannot always be said that conditions arise from age and other alternatives can be considered. It might be corrected if we recognize what causes it.
Esquire, Colliton Law Associates, P.C. Janet Colliton has practiced law for over 38 years, 37 of them in Chester County, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. Her practice, Colliton Law Associates, PC, is limited to elder law, Medicaid, including advice, applications and appeals, and other benefits planning including Veterans benefits, life care and special needs planning, guardianships, retirement, and estate planning and administration.