Do we want to live longer?

People are living longer despite the downturn because of COVID but has anyone asked if they want to live longer? Unless you stay in shape, getting older can be a challenge because of physical and financial problems. We must evaluate whether patients want to live longer with limitations or let nature take its course.

Medicine has allowed us to live longer but now that we’re living longer, society has no idea what to do with us. That’s true in a lot of ways. Boomers are retiring in droves and taking a lot of experience with them, but many are redefining aging. Their idea of retirement is to stay active, travel, and find new hobbies. But what about the generations who will follow?

Millennials are often seen as the worst generation regarding their health. This means a lot of problems when they get older, including more medical care. Will they have the willpower to fight aches and pains every day to embrace the day, or will they regard it as part of the body’s inevitable decline?

My best friend, who I have known almost all my life, gave up when his diabetes got out of control and caused significant nerve damage to his hands, preventing him from playing his guitar which he loved so much. When my mother’s colon cancer came back in her lungs, she gave up and didn’t want to go through chemo and radiation again. How many cancer patients give up as opposed to fighting the disease?

Our healthcare system is designed to care for health problems, not people. When someone is diagnosed with a severe health problem, mental counseling should determine what resources should be used for point-of-care.

We’re seeing the popularity of new weight loss drugs because people don’t want to exercise or eat healthily. We’ve become a culture of instant gratification that wants everything. Still, we’re often not willing to make the sacrifice needed to stay healthy.

Then there are the financial problems of living longer. Many people in this country can’t live on social security alone and need investments to live the life they want. Costs have gone up, but modest social security raises have not. A cancer diagnosis could wipe out $300-$400,000 in savings within a few months. Are older people willing to live without the money they need and want to do the things they want?

In my career in healthcare, I’ve spent a lot of time talking to HCPs about the “state of mind” of the patients they treat. Oncologists often have to determine whether a person wants to do everything to fight their cancer or if they want to be made comfortable in their final years.

In the last years of his life, my dad was in an assisted living facility. He didn’t mind it much because he interacted with other people his age and had a private room. When he lost his mobility, he gave up and told me, “this isn’t living.” He died three months later, but I knew it was what he wanted despite more doctor appointments to try and treat his issues. Ultimately, we spent every dime of his savings and the money from selling his house. It’s going to get worse, but we’re not prepared.