Penny Brohn UK

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Book Review: Being Mortal

That oft said ‘must-read’, noted of thrillers or leisure books in the quick-grab airport lounge, is, once you read ‘Being Mortal’ by Atul Gawande, suddenly realised as a much over-used phrase.

Given that this is a subject that affects us all and increasingly so as we age, for those who would like some enlightenment in advance then this is the book for you.

By the time one gets to a certain age one will have observed and felt the process of a dying person as an onlooker perhaps several times. This is necessarily a skewed and relatively uninformed experience. We will bring to the process our own concerns and issues around death which may not entirely be those of the dying person.

What this book sets out to achieve and does so well, is to firstly educate the reader about the inevitable and progressive nature of ageing, but importantly that this should be welcomed and embraced. The fear of dying and death itself preoccupies many and particularly as the inevitable gets closer can become wholly absorbing and is fearful.

There are some general facts that aside from perhaps your genetic propensity to retain your hair or keep your teeth are general truisms. You will lose muscle mass, sight and hearing will deteriorate your brain will function less well. This is inevitable and is directly related to your age. The doctor who wrote it identifies that medicine is not the whole story.

For us to live well in our longer lives he is concerned with a bigger wisdom. 

How do we accommodate this? The given examples of elderly people having to move away from independent living is a stark observation and points up the complete mismatch between what older people want and need and what they generally receive.

The role of modern medicine is put under the microscope both as to what it is not capable of and importantly how this technology is often wrongly applied. We age relatively better for longer, but do not generally embrace this state being embarrassed about our increasing frailties. The challenge for a geriatric doctor is not to ‘fix’ as it seems to be for most of the population, but actually to discover what of the several ailments presented are most likely to bring an early death and in one case, it was overlong toe nails.

The studies clearly show that better understanding of older people’s needs and appropriate and informed intervention will improve how you and I grow old. Understanding what might happen to us and preparing for that will be easier when you have read this book.

Review written by Simon Levingston

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