This week’s science section of the Times seems even more bountiful than usual. One article noted that we are gaining roughly a year of life for every year we are alive and healthy, but cautioned that we are probably going to live that extra year and more enduring some kind of debilitating illness. That should not be surprising. Mayo’s center that focuses on aging has a central goal of improving quality of life, not necessarily extending it. Dr. Jim Kirkland and crew understand that the glide path can be bumpy closest to the landing and they are working on way for people to maintain reasonable health as long as possible, i.e. until the very last year.
As I paged further in the Times, I saw Jane Brody’s column about the gentleman who lost much of his sight due to macular degeneration. He had sought help at some top medical centers, with limited success – mainly because they were looking for a cure. He said none of them offered ideas on how to improve his current situation – in other words they were trying to treat the disease and didn’t consider all the needs of the patient. He found help at the Veterans Administration, which provided vision tools and, more importantly, training in how to use them. Using the same approach the VA has used for years in helping veterans with disabilities, they had him back working as a consultant before too long. I saw the same approach work well for students with disabilities at the University of Illinois. An early innovator in helping impaired people obtain their educational goals, Illinois developed its own center for training and research, which is still going strong today. They made virtually every building on campus accessible long before federal mandates and had counselors who individually trained students on the latest technology, from optical devices to computer aids.
So, what’s next? Clearly the medical treatment of conditions of later life is a growing need, but so are the specialists and programs that will help the Boomers like me and those to come adjust to those limiting years when we can and will want (and economically may need) to continue working, provided we can manage. I hope and suspect we’ll see a new field develop – perhaps out of rehab or occupational therapy – dedicated to helping people use technologies not yet invented so they can keep on keeping on. Not medicine and not exactly PT, but work-life tech-support personal trainers. Not unlike the resourceful auto mechanics of Cuba, they will help keep the older models running better and longer.