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Saturday, November 22, 2014

How Old is Too Old? (Research, Hospice Story)


How old is too old? How long would you really like to live? How about 120 years with the help of technology? Some people think being around dying patients must always be sad because everybody fears death, and no one really wants to die. As a hospice volunteer, I have had several patients who could prove them wrong. These nursing home residents actually stated they looked forward to death and gave reasons that had nothing to do with depression. This is what hospice patient Rose and I discussed about her upcoming death (Excerpt from Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes):

“How old did you tell me I was?” Rose asked.

“You’re ninety-nine, and you’ll be a hundred years old on your next birthday.”

“A hundred years old is too old. I don’t think I want to be that old,” Rose shared.

“There are three other ladies in this nursing home who are older than that. One is a hundred three. We talked to her last week during your wheelchair ride.”

Without realizing it, Rose was in good company. The Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes, and trends shaping America and the world. It turns out that most Americans would like to die before they turn 100, even if there were life-extending technologies that could extend their lives to 120 years old. Many felt that the best lifespan would be between the ages of 79 and 100 for these reasons:

      1) Life-extending treatments would be offered before side effects were understood.

      2) Extended lifespans would put a strain on natural resources.

      3) Interestingly, 58% felt that extending lifespans to 120 would be “fundamentally unnatural.”

Rose had another perspective, and this is how our conversation concluded:

“How much longer will it be before I make one hundred? I don’t know if I want to wait too much longer, ” Rose explained.

I responded, “It’s only one more month. I remember you said you had spiritual talks with your minister. If you decide to wait, I’ll get you a big balloon that looks like a birthday cake.”

Smiling, Rose said, “I guess I could wait. Yes, I think I will wait. That way I can celebrate my hundredth birthday. When I do get to heaven, I can tell everybody I lived to be one hundred.”

And that’s exactly what she did. How about you? If technology could extend your life, would you want to live 120 years?

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Are Holiday Suicide Rates Higher? (Video 1:33)

The annual excitement building up from Thanksgiving through the Christmas season is commonly believed to ignite depressive feelings in people who may feel despondent, on the outside observing the joy of others. Some may conclude that more people probably commit suicide during this time of year. Is this true?

Let’s examine one form of suicide that includes ingesting poison as a way to end life. Do particular days of the week, seasons, or holidays really have an impact on the number of attempted and completed suicides that occur by poisoning? In this research on poison suicides, calls were recorded in the National Poison Database System coded as "suspected suicide." Exposures were evaluated by day, season, and holidays and compared to control dates.There were 1,065,067 exposures related to suicide attempts with completions in 0.4% of cases. Sundays and Mondays for adults and Mondays and Tuesdays for ages below 19 years were the most common times when suicides were committed. Spring and fall had higher numbers of exposures than summer and winter. New Year's Day also had a higher number of exposures, but Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas had fewer exposures. In conclusion, this research on suicides by poisons indicated that the beginning of the week, spring and fall, and New Year's Day were associated with higher numbers of ingestions with suicidal intent.

What about suicides in general and globally? Once again, the suicide rate does not peak during the holidays. Suicides are most common in spring and summer. Why do people kill themselves more in the spring? The following video explains this phenomenon further:




Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Older Veterans and Dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease (Research, Video 4:47)


As more research continues in the area of dementia, health consequences of environmental exposures during military service become more evident. Older veterans display long-term health risks associated with military service. Military risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease include tobacco use, traumatic brain injury (TBI), depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) obesity, and obesity-related diseases. The degree of combat exposure, Vietnam era Agent Orange exposure, and Gulf War Illness may also influence risk for Alzheimer’s disease

Research on veterans and Alzheimer’s disease reports conservative estimates of 423,000 new cases of Alzheimer’s disease in veterans by 2020, including 140,000 excess cases associated with specific military exposures that will cost approximately $5.8 billion to $7.8 billion. Programs focused on decreasing these risk factors and lowering rates of Alzheimer’s decease in veterans in the future are greatly needed.

New research shows a link between older veterans who had a traumatic brain injury and an increased risk of dementia. This CBS video features Dr. Jennifer Ashton profiling a young Afghanistan veteran named Nick Colgin.  The connection between dementia, Alzheimer's disease and traumatic brain injury (TBI) in veterans is explained.




Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Ethics of Dying (Video 2:18)


People don’t die like they used to die. They live longer with illnesses that progress while technology keeps them alive. Questions are asked about taking the technology too far or not far enough. Family members argue about extending loved ones’ lives as the inevitable approaches. Some question if the burdens of dying are worth the benefits from extending life. Can death be wrestled to the ground and lose to earthly inventions? What about cost factors, legalities, and societal impacts?

As the population ages, there will be a 50% increase in cancer cases over the next 20 years. With more and more technical advances, older adults with advanced cancer, their caregivers, and healthcare providers are confronted with circumstances in which medical advances may inadvertently extend dying and suffering rather than bring healing.

Spirituality often comes up during these times, and assistance from members of the healthcare team may be needed to resolve important ethical concerns. Spiritualty and religion can play significant roles in oncology and in survivorship. Many patients and caregivers rely on them when choosing therapies and aggressive or less aggressive end-of-life care.

Palliative care includes many ethical issues. Is there an ethical limit to prolonging life? In this video, Dr. Ira Byock, palliative care physician and chief medical officer of the Providence Institute for Human Caring, addresses the ethics of prolonging life:




Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.