Mosaic of Learning | Growing Older

Mosaic of Learning is a biweekly blog that takes a look at research and education at the University.

By Khushi Rai, Staff Writer

I recently finished Atul Gawande’s book “Being Mortal.” In the book, he discusses the need to prioritize health and well-being over mere survival while paying special attention to elderly care. Through his anecdotes, Gawande communicates the attention our society must put toward eldercare. 

As a college student, I like to believe that I have my life planned out. I know the courses I’m expected to take to obtain a degree, the dream job I want to eventually have and the city I want to live in. However, I never gave a second thought to how I’ll be taken care of once I am older. 

In his book, Gawande writes that when trying to postpone thinking about elder life and aging, we lose the ability to make our own decisions about our future. In turn, the goals and wishes of the elderly are completely disregarded, and the priorities of the people looking after them become freeing up hospital beds and taking burdens off of families’ hands. 

The obvious and popular answer to old age is nursing homes. However, approximately 20% of all nursing home residents have major depression, while an additional 30% have significant depressive symptoms. As a young outsider, I view nursing homes as the perfect place to live when I’m older — I’ll be surrounded by friends, taken care of and will have few chores! However, Gawande explains that nursing homes were originally created to clear up hospital beds rather than help the elderly facing dependency. Clearly, they are not the answer to being content and cared for in old age.

In addition, more than 8.5% of the world’s population consists of those aged 65 and older. In turn, there is an urgent, growing need for geriatricians. To medical students, this field is not seen as lucrative or popular, causing there to be fewer geriatricians for a growing population of elderly.

Assisted living homes also do not provide the answer needed for elderly care, as they strip the autonomy of the elderly, similarly to nursing homes. The elderly’s ability to choose their meals, activities and bedtime is taken away, leaving some to feel frustrated over their lack of independence. Uncomfortable with the topic of death, physicians prolong extensive treatment to sustain living, even though the quality of living is severely reduced. Therefore, college students must educate themselves on the growing issue to further create solutions. The need for awareness on the care of the elderly is prominent, as we will all reach that age one day.

 Khushi writes about research, education and events taking place at Pitt. Talk to her at [email protected].