Age: Sometimes a Good Reason to Discriminate

Cheryl Clark, August 14, 2014

As evidence grows that the risks of harm outweigh the chance of benefit for some procedures on older patients, thoughtful providers are putting the brakes on overly aggressive care for their senior patients.

Three months before my 92-year-old father died, his family doctor diagnosed an occluded popliteal artery in his leg. Dad was cachectic and skeletally thin, barely spoke, and was too weak to move without help.

On top of congestive heart failure and dementia. He also seemed so very, very sad.

Though it wasn't in his best interest, I watched medicine's referral network take over his care. He should see a surgeon, his doctor said. An operation could restore blood flow to his leg and foot. His hopeful wife got dad dressed, maneuvered him gingerly into the car and into the surgeon's office—a very difficult undertaking—one very slow and scary step at a time.

Just say yes, and surgery would be done, they were told. Another perilous trip to the cardiologist to make sure his heart was strong enough. He'd need expensive drugs that promised to rekindle his desire for food. $100 each for tiny tubes of silver medicine for the pressure sores on his feet.

None of it worked.


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