Baby Boomers Sicker Than Their Parents

Mature couple seeking health care advice.

Aging and Health Care – Baby Boomers Sicker than Their Parents at the Same Age –iStock

‘A massive generation of sick people.’  Those are the words Reuben Greg Brewer used when blogging about the recent JAMA study which found that today’s baby boomers are sicker than their parents were at the same age, suffering from chronic illness and disability related to:

How often I have heard my own mother say (who is now 80 and who just underwent her third joint replacement surgery), “These pills are keeping me alive.”

While the gist of Mr. Brewer’s blog trumpets health-field related investment opportunities for the savvy (Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, Teva Pharmaceuticals, CVS Caremark), it really is a sad commentary on the general state of health in these modern times, to find that today’s baby boomers are sicker than their parents were at the same age.  It is also  a confirmation that chronic illness is big business in the Western world.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Research about the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle and stress is not new, by any means.

Why have we as a society bought into the illusion of “the magic pill?”

Why have the majority of people refused to take responsibility for their own health and wellness?

We are finite beings.  We have limitations.  We wear out.

What changes are you willing to make now, today, to improve your chances of aging well?  Although your body is ready, willing and able to restore function and mobility, beware of waiting too long.

A final thought, will you invest in yourself and/or in health-related companies on the stock exchange, each offering a unique ‘golden opportunity’?

Trauma by Appointment: Understanding Post-Surgical Trauma

As a holistic practitioner and somatic therapist, I have come to appreciate that the best way to approach serious health issues is to become informed about the course of an illness as well as its medical treatment.  While holistic medicine emphasizes prevention and works very well to resolve many chronic health conditions, sometimes more drastic means are needed to either greatly improve one’s quality of life or to extend one’s life.   For some, surgery may be the best option, yet surgery, by its very nature, is traumatic and intrinsically threatening.  If you or a loved one are facing surgery, it is my hope that the following discussion on factors associated with the development of post-surgical trauma will help you become more prepared.

Professor Ernst Bumm operating on a male patient

Let me begin this discussion by expressing my gratitude to all the skilled surgeons who make it their life’s work to improve the health and well-being of others.  I have personally benefited from their skill and am grateful for the way it has enhanced my life experience.  Nevertheless, the topics I will now discuss are valid and address issues that are often overlooked or ignored in a pre-surgical work-up which can increase the risk of post-surgical trauma.

Exhaustion

It is not uncommon for surgical candidates who may have been coping with chronic pain, to be in a state of exhaustion prior to the scheduled surgical date.  Discomfort, fatigue, and insomnia can  trigger feelings of anxiety, fear, and despair.  A surgical intervention at this point, even when medically necessary, can be physically, mentally, and emotionally overwhelming and set the stage for post-surgical trauma.  Neurologist Robert Scaer, M.D., explained,

Preoperative anxiety and panic have long been a significant concern to surgeons, from the standpoints of behavioral management, intraoperative complications postoperative pain, and postoperative outcomes.  Fear of death, injury, postoperative pain, and even of helplessness and unconsciousness may be a source of preoperative anxiety.

Loss

Surgery can also be accompanied by a profound sense of loss which can be traumatic. In humans, loss is a complex, cumulative phenomena that can usher in waves of grief.  In my clinical experience, patients have reported profound grief due to the loss of bodily integrity, loss of an organ, loss of strength, or the loss of a familiar sense of self. When they later tried to explain these feelings to their doctors, their feelings were often minimized or ignored.   

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Post-Surgical Trauma

Unfortunately, in too many cases, prior negative life events, traumas, emotional or physical illnesses are ignored or unidentified by physicians prior to a surgical experience.  Yet these pre-surgical factors increase the patient’s risk of  developing PTSD.  This is especially true when patients are coping with a serious or life-threatening disease.  Additionally, exposure to numerous invasive pre-surgical diagnostic tests have also been found to greatly increase feelings of helplessness and loss of control.  Together, these factors may place the patient at greater risk of developing post-traumatic stress after surgery, delaying recovery.

Taking into consideration one’s circumstances and past history can go a long way towards alleviating distress following surgery, helping one to avoid post-surgical trauma altogether.  Another post will offer some practical suggestions to prepare for surgery.

Please feel free to comment on this post and if you choose, share your experiences of surgical intervention and recovery.

Reference:

The Body Bears the Burden: Trauma, Dissociation, and Disease by Robert C. Scaer, Md

The Limitations of Body as Machine

Metaphor of Body as Machine

The long-established metaphor, body as a machine, a by-product of reductionism (the primary scientific method of inquiry used in the study of living systems) is losing its relevance in the face of advancing scientific knowledge.  Why should this matter to you and me?  It matters because according to medical anthropologists, Robbie Davis-Floyd and Gloria St. John, the cultural manner in which the body is defined determines how it is viewed and treated within the medical health care system.

Body as Machine or Information System?

 

Biomedicine and the Reductionist Method

Most of us were introduced to the reductionist method in our high school science classes.  In bio-medicine, this method involves the breaking down and dissecting of anatomical structures and physiological pathways into biochemical and structural components for analysis with the aim of developing more effective ways to intervene in the disease process.  While this approach has supported advancements in molecular biology, pharmacology, and surgical interventions, it is proving to be too limited in understanding and intervening in chronic illnesses as these tend to be whole-body-systems disorders.  More importantly, this perspective nearly discards what physiologist Dr. James Oschman calls “the single most important attribute” of every living organism:  it’s systemic interconnectedness.

Beyond the Metaphor

With chronic disease becoming epidemic and health care costs skyrocketing out of control, it behooves researcher and consumer alike to examine the  emerging evidence of contemporary models of the human body which have incorporated the principle of holism, the idea that the body must be studied as a whole interconnected system.  This series will explore the emerging idea of body as information system and discuss how this novel perspective can help you take charge of your health and wellness in order to avoid or reverse chronic disease.

How do you experience your body, as a machine that can have its parts reworked or replaced when needed or as a dynamic interconnected system? Do the two concepts mutually exclude each other?

Computers and Neck Pain or Why My Neck Hurts

Neck Pain and Computers

Almost all of the patients I treat work with computers and suffer from neck pain. An examination of their posture usually reveals that their head is no longer aligned with their shoulders.  Instead, it has moved into a forward position, creating changes in the neck and shoulders.  This is an example of how the body remodels or adapts itself structurally when we sit for hours at a time in the same posture.  Think of hour many hours we are on a computer or even driving in a car each day.  When these are our daily routines, we are creating repetitive postures and forcing the body to adapt.

So, how does the body adapt to working at a computer workstation for hours each day and how does this create chronic neck pain?

As we discussed previously, all experience is embedded in the body.  In time, repeated experiences create habituated patterns of response over time that can be observed in one’s posture, movement patterns, vocal tone, and facial expressions. Research has found that repetitive use injuries are the most difficult to resolve.  Dehydration of soft tissues due to altered blood flow may be the key reason.  

Another factor in play is the brain structure known as the cerebellum.  One of its jobs is to constantly tract where our body is in space so that and make adjustments for the protection of our brain and spinal cord as well as internal organs.  It also helps us to coordinate body movements, balance, and posture without having to think about it.  So, as we sit at the computer hour, after hour, our body tries to adjust our posture the best it can to adapt to this unnatural state of being. Eventually the body’s tracking device gets skewed and the body gets taxed from overcompensating.  This can lead to chronic neck and shoulder pain.  Try the following experiential exercise to get a sense of what is happening to our body when we sit for hours working on a computer:

computers and neck pain

Computers and Neck Pain

Experiential Exercise

Please take a moment to check in with your body.  Close your eyes, take a breath, exhale, and use your senses to track bodily sensations like pulsing, breath, tension, or relaxation.  Now, open your eyes, look at your computer screen. and continue reading this post.

Notice how your body begins to adapt, in the moment.  Can you sense your eyes reaching towards the screen, followed by your head and neck? Your posture has begun to shift and adapt. The longer you sit in this position, the more your body will adjust itself to accommodate your position.

The Forward Head Position or The 42-Pound Head

What are the consequences of prolonged computer use?  After awhile, your posture becomes habituated to this head forward position and you begin to experience chronic neck and shoulder pain because the natural interaction, function, and structure of your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and discs have changed. According to Erik Dalton, your head will eventually weigh 42lbs as it cantilevers forward. See the link to his article at the end of this post.

A forward head pattern also affects important body functions like lymphatic drainage, air and blood flow, and swallowing.  Eventually, eye strain, chronic muscle spasms, inflammation, and pain may result, leading to fatigue symptoms, degenerative disc disease, and even feelings of depression.

To undo this state will require a lot of work and perhaps some therapeutic assistance to realign posture and resolve any degenerative processes that may have begun.

Improvement won’t happen overnight.  Patience and persistence will help you reach your goal of improved health and well-being.

This example demonstrates how the body physically adapts to the cumulative experience of using a computer.  Stay tuned as we explore how stressful and overwhelming experience registers in the body to influence long-term health on a less observable level.

What steps have you taken to support your body while working at the computer?

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Additional reading: http://erikdalton.com/media/published-articles/forward-head-posture/

Embodied Experience and Health: You Are Your Best Advocate

Did you know that your life experience is tied to your long-term health?  Life experience challenges our body’s resources and is cumulative.  The concept of embodiment and embodied experience is a rather new concept which I find intriguing.   I’ve also discovered that looking at health from a different perspective can  actually give us more options.

It is my hope that this series on embodied experience as it relates to health will prove to be useful to all who are seeking to prevent or resolve states of illness, disease, or chronic pain.

Be an Advocate for Your Health

Today, a wealth of information is available to consumers who choose to take an active role in cultivating and perpetuating a state of health and well-being.

Advocate for Your Health!

In addition to keeping up with the latest health news and taking note of tips for a healthy lifestyle such as making better food choices, regulating our stress, exercising, and hanging out with like-minded people, we also want to be active and healthy into our senior years to avoid debilitating chronic illness.

That’s my personal goal too. To achieve that goal, it is vital to remember that no matter what your age, YOU are your best health advocate and the more informed you are about your body, the easier it will be to improve and sustain your health.

In what ways have you advocated for your own health and wellness?

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