Slow Medicine: A New Approach to Elders' Quality of Life

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • What would it be like if we gave the elderly the time and the information to make their own decisions about the level of medical care given to them as they approach the final  hour? That's the idea behind slow medicine, which is described in a New York Times article by Jane Gross.


    "Grounded in research at the Dartmouth Medical School, slow medicine encourages physicians to put on the brakes when considering care that may have high risks and limited rewards for the elderly, and it educates patients and families how to push back against emergency room trips and hospitalizations designed for those with treatable illnesses, not the inevitable erosion of advanced age," Gross reports.

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    The article describes the elderly's worry of "death by intensive care," which is the vicious cycle that can result when one treatment for a problem starts and impacts a person's quality of life. Slow medicine can provide a thoughtful approach to avoiding this situation. Gross provides an example of this change in thinking involving a gentleman who has a heart problem, Alzheimer's disease, and an intestinal disorder. Doctors also believed that he might have throat cancer.


    After the diagnosis of cancer, the gentleman's wife wondered if the battery of treatments (biopsies, anesthesia, surgery, radiation or chemotherapy) would be worth it. Her concern involved the possibility of a prolonged period of decline and dependence for her husband. Working with a nurse practitioner who was trained in slow medicine, the couple took the time to think through all of the angles of what the gentleman faced. For instance, what about the potential impact of the anesthesia on the Alzheimer's? Finally, the couple decided that the husband would not take any treatments for the throat cancer and would return to the retirement community.


    In American society, we're bombarded by the advances in medical technology and techniques, yet we have to realize that at some point, these aren't going to be enough to stave off the inevitable. The slow medicine movement provides a good alternative that allows the elderly and frail to have the time to think through what each medical treatment and procedure holds long-term and what they want at the end of their life. I believe that time is very well spent in making an informed decision.

Published On: May 05, 2008