The Over-Medicalization of Aging

At what point, as we age, do we become accepting of aches and pains –aging that is — and stop thinking about rushing to a physician all of the time? How do we decide whether or not to fix a problem if it has more to do with the later years of our life than with a traditional medical ailment?  Can we depend on our physicians to clearly tell us when a medical problem is as easily addressed by physical therapy as by a surgical procedure of some type — especially when there are low-tech ways to improve the situation.

These are questions for our elder parents to consider; however, those of us who are older adult children also need to think about them. The medicalization of our aging — the tendency of the medical community to always to have a procedure or surgery that purports to solve a problem — potentially exposes seniors to more and more risks without really solving the problems.

To think about future medical problems in the abstract is easy but so much more difficult when they actually occur and become more personal. Aren’t we really turning our later years into big medical procedure-filled adventures rather than accepting that predictable problems will develop as we age — problems that reflect more about the way about our bodies slowing down and less about true medical issues?

An article in the February 20, 2012 Washington Post Health section features an interview with physician Norton M. Hadler, the author of Rethinking Aging, Growing Old and Living Well in an Overtreated Society. It’s worth reading this article and maybe even the book. Read and excerpt from the book.

Best Quote from the Interview

You can be healthy well beyond 60, but you’ll be different than you were when you were 20. You’ll have different posture, wrinkles and a lot of other changes that are less obvious but age appropriate. We have to be very, very careful about calling any difference from when we were younger an illness or a disease. And we have to be even more careful about telling people that we have things we can do to “fix” these differences, but this happens all the time. That’s the medicalization of aging.

Best Quote from the Excerpt

I have written Rethinking Aging so that readers will learn to think of prognosis as a call for advance health care planning even if that planning proves unnecessary. I want prognosis to signal a change in the parlance of time from “my time is limited” to “my time is valuable, too valuable not to capture every moment I can.”

One thought on “The Over-Medicalization of Aging

  1. Many of the things we blame on aging have nothing to do with getting older.

    The medicalization of aging is something I’ve seen first hand as an ICU RN for over 20yrs.

    Great topic!

    Patrick Roden


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