Aging Comfortably

Quality and length of life – a balance for those sunset years

9/1/2016 4:47:33 PM
written By : Pamposh Dhar Print

As medical science adds more and more years to our lives, and to the lives of our loved ones, it raises some difficult issues of its own. 

One of the most difficult of these is finding the right balance between the quality and length of life. This choice becomes harder as one grows older. At 30, when you are young and vital, and have most of life still ahead of you, it is easier to choose an option that may add 50 years to that life. You will recover from the treatment, however harsh, because your body still has the ability to bounce back. You may gain decades of life to spend with your partner and children, to do your life’s work, to travel and see the world. 

Undergoing invasive treatment is difficult at any age; but the choice may be clearer when one is young. But what if you have the same choice to make when you are 90? Would you undergo extensive surgery at that age? What about chemotherapy and radiotherapy? What are the chances that you will survive the surgery and the treatment? How many years, or months, will you add to your life? And what will be the quality of that extra life?

My mother, who lives with me, developed a cancerous growth on her arm two years ago, when she was 90. The first specialist we consulted told us the easiest and most thorough way to deal with it would be to amputate the arm. 

It was certainly a “thorough” solution, but it did not sound easy to me. Wouldn’t my mother be filled with sadness at this very obvious mutilation? Given her severe memory loss, would she not react with shock to the missing limb every morning? What of the surgery itself? Would she need general anaesthesia, and how would her weak heart react to that?

In the end, we decided to go for limited surgery, simply to remove the growth and the affected cells around it. When I say “we” I mean mostly myself and my husband as my mother can no longer make fully informed decisions – and in fact does not even want to try. Some years ago, when a doctor asked her what kind of treatment she would choose, she turned the tables on him by saying: “You are the doctor. What do you advise?” 

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