For the Elderly, Being Heard About Life’s End
HANOVER, N.H. “” Edie Gieg, 85, strides ahead of people half her age and plays a fast-paced game of tennis. But when it comes to health care, she is a champion of “slow medicine,” an approach that encourages less aggressive “” and less costly “” care at the end of life.
Grounded in research at the Dartmouth Medical School, slow medicine encourages physicians to put on the brakes when considering care that may have high risks and limited rewards for the elderly, and it educates patients and families how to push back against emergency room trips and hospitalizations designed for those with treatable illnesses, not the inevitable erosion of advanced age.
Slow medicine, which shares with hospice care the goal of comfort rather than cure, is increasingly available in nursing homes, but for those living at home or in assisted living, a medical scare usually prompts a call to 911, with little opportunity to choose otherwise.
At the end of her husband’s life, Ms. Gieg was spared these extreme options because she lives in Kendal at Hanover, a retirement community affiliated with Dartmouth Medical School that has become a laboratory for the slow medicine movement. At Kendal, it is possible “” even routine “” for residents to say “No” to hospitalization, tests, surgery, medication or nutrition.
Charley Gieg, 86 at the time, was suffering from a heart problem, an intestinal disorder and the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease when doctors suspected he also had throat cancer.
A specialist outlined what he was facing: biopsies, anesthesia, surgery, radiation or chemotherapy. Ms. Gieg doubted he had the resilience to bounce back. She worried, instead, that such treatments would accelerate his downward trajectory, ushering in a prolonged period of decline and dependence. This is what the Giegs said they feared even more than dying, what some call “death by intensive care.”