Aging, Medicine and Society

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Aging, Medicine and Society. Lecture 18 Cradle to Grave. Issues. New subject for the history of medicine – most literature to date has focused on closely related topics of demographic change and social history of old age, welfare provision (notably Pat Thane)
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Aging, Medicine and Society Lecture 18 Cradle to Grave Issues
  • New subject for the history of medicine – most literature to date has focused on closely related topics of demographic change and social history of old age, welfare provision (notably Pat Thane)
  • Conception that aging and medicine go hand in hand – cost of care for elderly, end of life care, hospitalisation of elderly, problems of old age, notably dementia (Susannah Ottaway)
  • Again, shifting perceptions of what a ‘good age is’ – breaking age barrier, extension of working life, ‘grey pound’ and greying of society, though shifts in longevity less clear cut
  • Ideas of old age influenced ‘by our own fears of those later years of unpredictable length and unknowable condition’
  • Themes
  • Changing conceptions of aging – longevity
  • Medicine and old age
  • Rise of geriatric medicine
  • Provision of care – hospitals and community care
  • War and elderly
  • Changes post-NHS
  • Ethical issues
  • Category of old age
  • Do people age in same way and at same rate – did people age, physiologically, at earlier ages in past?
  • Some historians argue, especially for women, 50 was common marker of old age
  • Yet from ancient societies through to modern period 60 most often depicted as start of declining capacities including ability to work.
  • Old age broad category – from 60 to 100?
  • Change over time/longevity
  • 1st time in history normal to grow old?
  • In previous centuries, those surviving infancy had reasonable chance of reaching old age. People over 65 accounted for 8-10% of population of England 16th-18thCs, falling to 5% 19thC (life expectancy figures confused by high IMR)
  • 1900 5% population aged over 65, 1951 11%, 1991 16%, of whom one-quarter aged over 80
  • Aging a largely female experience since 1837. Yet because women traditionally accumulate fewer resources, liable to worse old age.
  • Decline of IMR and mortality e.g. from disease, meant proportion of older people in society increased.
  • But many healthier in old age – lifetime experience of health tends to be better, and people ‘age later’
  • None the less striking economic and social implications – cost and care
  • The experiences of aging
  • 20 March 1903, aged 87
  • ‘This is a sad letter – I am so crippled with Rheumatism from the constant damp that I can hardly walk upright now. I know if fine weather and spring days will give me back my elasticity. I shall be 88 this year and I think a pair of crutches is more likely to be my portion… (Ann Clive to Mary, Lady Minto, National Library of Scotland)
  • ‘Louise is hopelessly crippled and creeps about the house. Her mind is clear and old age and helplessness have softened her outlook on the world… but she is desperately lonely and bored with existence…. The plain truth is that the aged feel that their children… are thinking about: “If you are not enjoying life, why don’t you die and be done with it”.’ (Beatrice Webb, Diaries, 1930s)
  • Leaflet for the book ‘Secrets of Beauty, Health & Long Life - Wonders of Face Transformation’ by Professor Boyd Laynard, 1902 The workhouse experience Life - Wonders of Face Transformation’ by Professor Boyd
  • Workhouse where many elderly and infirm ended up. Also place where chronically ill relegated, while voluntary hospitals took more ‘interesting’ curable cases (Anne Digby and Anne Crowther have useful books on workhouse and its inmates, including elderly)
  • Pensions and Retirement Life - Wonders of Face Transformation’ by Professor Boyd
  • 1st British state pensions introduced 1908 and paid at age of 70 (Liberal Reforms) – economy measure as popular/medical view considered people old enough to need these at age of 60 or 65.
  • Reduced 1925 to 65, and for women 1940 to 60
  • Medicine and old age Life - Wonders of Face Transformation’ by Professor Boyd
  • 19thC urbanisation brought new challenges – social and medical (changes in family structure, migration, challenges of large towns)
  • But little attention to old age and many conditions, such as heart disease, not associated with old age
  • Idea elderly ‘incurable’ dominated
  • 20thC greater attention to health of elderly – to address specific ailments but also to consider whether aging unalterable. Is aging itself a disease?
  • Late 19thC geriatrics emerges as specialism (IgnatzNascher in US) – spread slowly in 20thC. Still thought uninteresting by many medical professionals
  • Nascher talked of need to treat disease of elderly not as part of old age, but as curable illness
  • Medical journals included sections on health of elderly from early 20thC, 1st international gerontology conference 1938
  • Medicine and Old Age Life - Wonders of Face Transformation’ by Professor Boyd
  • Modern British geriatrics dates to 1935 – Dr Marjorie Warren, deputy medical director of Poor Law Infirmary which was taken over by West Middlesex Hospital, after Local Government Act, 1929 (Poor Law hospitals brought under local authority control).
  • Warren responsible for 700 mainly bed-ridden elderly ‘hopeless’ patients. She improved wards and diagnosed patients, promoted physiotherapy.
  • Discovered cure or improvement possible, though more difficult than for younger patients. Elderly often had multiple conditions; many depressed; many lacked family and support networks (combination of social and medical problems).
  • After rehabilitation 200 of initial patients left hospital.
  • Also this situation fairly new – more elderly patients surviving acute illness by 1930s such as pneumonia or stokes due to improved nursing and sulphonomide drugs.
  • More elderly in hospital for longer periods
  • First World War Life - Wonders of Face Transformation’ by Professor Boyd
  • Elderly suffered due to difficulties with fuel and food supply, declining standard of living, and stress of working in war industries e.g. deaths rose from heart disease and respiratory infections
  • But also rise in mortality attributed to depression and despair
  • Death rates related to loss of sons and grandsons in conflict and deep grief. e.g. London death rates of over 60s rose between 1913-18 – 22,929 in 1913, 25,857 in 1918 (Jay Winter and Jean-Louis Robert (eds), Capital Cities at War (Cambridge, 1997), p.463.
  • War bad for health of elderly – repeated Second World War
  • World War II Life - Wonders of Face Transformation’ by Professor Boyd
  • Elderly again casualties of war. Moved out of hospitals rapidly (140,000 in 2 days!) to Poor Law institutions or private homes. Mortality rose.
  • Yet in longer term set precedent for establishing residential homes for elderly. Some elderly found respite from bombing in residential hostels and others billeted to countryside
  • Increased death rates among over 65s England and Wales
  • Old people had low expectations of health, a view shared by most people, including medical profession.
  • Many treated by panel doctors – were a low priority. Beveridge Report 1942: ‘It is dangerous to be in any way lavish to old age until adequate provision has been assured for all other vital needs, such as the prevention of disease and the adequate nutrition of the young’.
  • Elderly problem population for local government health services – families increasingly reluctant to care for elderly. After war, housing shortage exacerbated situation.
  • Post-War Life - Wonders of Face Transformation’ by Professor Boyd
  • 1948 70,000 hospital beds occupied by old people (many long term, chronic cases, national average for women 260 days) 2 major shifts in post-war period:
  • Rise in community care – for vulnerable social groups (residential care, domiciliary after-care and support systems)
  • Geriatrics emerged as specialism 1950s – British Geriatrics Society established 1948. Recognised specialist care could solve medical problems . 60 geriatric units established in 1950s – yet demand/need outstripped facilities Also more emphasis on rehabilitation of elderly and expansion of meals on wheels and old people’s clubs
  • Normal Aging Life - Wonders of Face Transformation’ by Professor Boyd
  • Interest in ‘normal’ health of older people in post-War years – to what degree was old age unavoidably associated with ill-health.
  • Nuffield Foundation survey 1945-7 Dr J.H. Sheldon, of older people in Wolverhampton. Health and level of activity better than expected.
  • 2.5% confined to bed, 8.5% to houses, 22.5% to immediate neighbourhood – increased with age and rare below age of 70
  • Few had much contact with doctors
  • Before 70 ailments much the same as remainder of adult population – then specific set of problems emerged e.g. weakness, loss of confidence, spondylitis (inflammation of vertebrae) – mix of social and medical
  • Women had poorer health, though more vigorous – carried on with domestic tasks
  • Many older people disabled not by major illness, but minor and curable conditions – bad feet, defective vision and hearing, incontinence
  • Also concluded health of elderly better outside of institutions
  • When old people depressed, often because lonely, had economic worries, had poor general health or limited mobility
  • Scotland Life - Wonders of Face Transformation’ by Professor Boyd
  • Picture different – less separation between teaching and chronic hospitals
  • Ferguson Anderson – shocked by condition of elderly sick in pre-War Poor Law hospitals in Glasgow, conditions worsened with onset of NHS, with emphasis placed on treatment of young. Also inspired by Marjorie Warren’s work.
  • Established small units for diagnosis of elderly in Glasgow Central hospitals. Worked with Dr Nairn Cowan at Rutherglen Centre of Older People 1953 – examined people aged over 55 to understand normal aging.
  • Anderson’s findings Life - Wonders of Face Transformation’ by Professor Boyd
  • Emphasised interaction of medical and social problems
  • That symptoms insidious and older people have more things wrong with them
  • Importance of treating mundane conditions
  • Also emphasised older people better off in own homes if fit to stay there
  • Older people had immense capacity for recovery
  • Yet were real physiological differences in older people – loss of elasticity in skin, bone, lungs, arteries, brain and loss of reserve function in heart, liver, kidneys, brain
  • Important to have regular check ups to catch disease in early stage
  • Tendency to over-prescribe drugs
  • Older people also had lower standard of service
  • Failure of NHS hospital provision? Life - Wonders of Face Transformation’ by Professor Boyd
  • NHS promised elderly people access to consultant services ‘As one of the main users of hospital services, the elderly had a great deal to gain from the new system’. (Charles Webster)
  • Yet facilities for chronically ill elderly remained poor
  • Fear that elderly would ‘block’ hospital beds – geriatric medicine slow to be incorporated into medical training so less likely to be pushed as priority
  • 1950s high waiting lists and many elderly sick admitted to mental hospitals given shortage of hospital beds – this continued into 1970s
  • 1953 Hornsby-Smith, junior minister Ministry of Health, explicitly linked rising cost of hospital care to elderly: the ‘vastly increasing aged population [was] the biggest challenge to the welfare state’
  • Efforts to introduce a ‘bed norm’, to restrict number of hospital admissions for elderly
  • 1960s modernised geriatric services introduced some hospitals but overall provision meant long waiting lists
  • Acute care takes priority over complicated long-term care of patients with multiple conditions and poor prognosis
  • Birmingham Hospitals Centre Life - Wonders of Face Transformation’ by Professor Boyd Community care Life - Wonders of Face Transformation’ by Professor Boyd
  • Local Government Act 1929 urged setting up of specialised facilities, including elderly care homes
  • 1948 National Assistance Act converted these Public Assistance institutions into old people’s homes
  • 1980s rise of private facilities – increased from 18% in 1980 to 85% end of C
  • Desirability of elderly staying at home emphasised – geriatricians and social researchers also emphasised need for family support
  • Many struggled on pensions – suffered malnutrition, poor living conditions, false incontinence
  • Improved community care emphasised from mid-1950s, but action limited – low cost benefit from extending lives! Also emphasis on family care maintained.
  • Still case end of 20thC – though more people wish to live independently away from families (rising affluence)
  • Medicine for aging Life - Wonders of Face Transformation’ by Professor Boyd
  • Diseases of aging persistent problem
  • Limited improvement – partly due to complex familial situations, but also because doctors continued to associate symptoms with aging rather than illness.
  • Mental frailty, osteoporosis, arthritis, heart disease, stroke, cancer – resistant to treatment.
  • Medical breakthroughs – cardiac pacemakers 1960s, kidney dialysis late 1960s, coronary artery surgery 1970s, cataract, hip, knee and organ replacement surgery. Most recent innovations in medical technology benefit over-50s
  • All costly interventions and many need them
  • Much improvement in health due to life style changes – exercise and diet
  • Mental health and aging Life - Wonders of Face Transformation’ by Professor Boyd
  • Alois Alzheimer (1834-1915) helped redefine understanding of senile brain disease – Alzheimer’s disease labelled 1906 (form of dementia)
  • Lillien J. Martin, Salvaging Old Age (1930) discussed stress in later life
  • Many elderly patients ended up in mental hospitals up to mid- 20thC
  • Prolongevity Life - Wonders of Face Transformation’ by Professor Boyd or experimental gerontology
  • How to prolong life/delay death long preoccupation of medicine
  • Enlightenment optimism 18thC – fascination with instances of longevity. Emphasis on regimen – eat moderately, exercise, and be of cheerful temper
  • Also opportunity for quack medicine and patent medicine
  • Cosmetic interventions, anti- aging cryonics ‘ambulance to future’
  • Ethical dilemmas Life - Wonders of Face Transformation’ by Professor Boyd
  • Debates about aged-based rationing of treatment e.g. in cancer care
  • Medicine now able to keep patients technically ‘alive’ indefinitely….
  • Still limited services e.g. for counselling, social services stretched, Britain poor results – higher mortality rates e.g. for heart disease and stroke than other developed countries
  • Concerns about the rise in dementia – people kept alive with diminishing functional capacity
  • Scandal of elderly forced into A&E as faith lost in care outside hospitals. Number of vulnerable patients going to casualty up 93 per cent in five years as senior doctors warn patients and health professionals are "losing faith" in care outside hospital. Telegraph, 28 Jan. 2014 Hospitals are ‘very bad places’ for elderly people, according to the head of the NHS. Sir David Nicholson said they were not the right place to care for ‘old, frail people’, and called for community care to be expanded to accommodate the growing elderly population. He compared modern treatment of the elderly to the ‘national scandals’ of the Sixties and Seventies caused by treating mental health patients in large asylums. ‘If you think about the average general hospital now, something like 40 per cent of the patients will have some form of dementia,’ Sir David told The Independent. Mail Online, 21 Jan 2013
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