Here is a review of a book advocating “slow medicine.”
My Mother, Your Mother Embracing “Slow Medicine,” the Compassionate Approach to Caring for Your Aging Loved Ones. By Dennis McCullough, M.D. HarperCollins. 263 pages. $25.95
It was two decades ago that a group of culinary mavericks took a giant step backward down the evolutionary trail with the “slow food” movement. Instead of fast food produced by the assembly lines of giant consortiums, they championed products of small-scale agriculture — time-consuming to prepare, beautiful to behold, very good for you.
Now (and, some might add, at last) doctors are following suit, rejecting the assembly line of modern medical care for older, gentler options. The substituted menu is not for all patients — at least not yet. For the very elderly, however, most agree the usual tough love of modern medicine in all its hospital-based, medication-obsessed, high-tech impersonality may hurt more than it helps.
In its place, doctors like Dr. Dennis McCullough, a family physician and geriatrician at Dartmouth Medical School, suggest “slow medicine” — as he puts it, “a family-centered, less expensive way.”
This medicine is specifically not intended to save lives or to restore youthful vigor, but to ease the inevitable irreversible decline of the very old.
His bottom line is this: It is up to friends and relatives to rescue the elderly from standard medical care. And slow medicine, like slow food, involves a lot of hard work. Readers who sign on will acquire a staggering list of tasks to perform, some of which may be just as tiring and tear-producing as chopping onions.
All the while, medical care for the parent should favor the tried and true over the high tech. For instance, McCullough points out that instead of a yearly mammogram, a manual breast exam may suffice for the very old, and home tests for blood in the stool may replace the draining routine of a colonoscopy.
The parent’s doctors should be nudged to justify flashy but exhausting diagnostic tests, and to constantly re-evaluate medication regimens. The high-blood-pressure pills that are life-saving at 75 may cause problems at 95, and paid companionship or a roster of visitors may prove to be antidepressants at least as effective as any drug.
The pace of care should be slowed to a crawl. For doctors, that means starting medications at low doses and increasing them gradually. For children, that means learning not to panic and yell for an ambulance on every bad day. And for a good overall picture of a parent’s condition, a child is well advised to ignore the usual medical and nursing jargon and to focus instead on the sound of the parent’s own voice. “No one,” McCullough says, “can be a bigger expert on a parent’s voice than a former teenager trained in the same household.”