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Being Mortal

Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End

By Atul Gawande
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Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Being Mortal (2014) helps the reader navigate and understand one of life’s most sobering inevitabilities: death. In this book, you will learn about the successes and failures of modern society’s approach to death and dying. You’ll also learn how to confront death and, by doing so, how to make the most out of life.

Key idea 1 of 9

Old age and disease result in a loss of independence, causing reliance on family, medicine and social programs.

It’s unpleasant to think about death and disease. Yet every one of us will eventually be confronted with them, both directly, as our own body ages, and indirectly, as our loved ones age and pass on. Precisely because it’s inevitable, it is tremendously important to talk about death and dying.

As we age, our organs slowly lose their strength and efficiency. Our bones, muscles and teeth, for example, lose mass, while our blood vessels and joints harden. As our bodies undergo this process, the heart has to pump harder to maintain blood flow, causing many elderly people to suffer from high blood pressure.

Our brains aren’t spared deterioration, either; the brain shrinks in size, often resulting in dementia.

As our bodily systems gradually fail us, we become more prone to injury and disease, and less capable of caring for ourselves.

Muscle weakness, for instance, causes many elderly people to suffer dangerous falls. In the US alone, some 350,000 people per year break a hip due to muscle deterioration.

The process of aging makes it harder to maintain an independent lifestyle. Even daily activities – from grocery shopping to using the toilet – become increasingly difficult.

Eventually, we’ll need permanent help from family or medical professionals, which often means spending our remaining years in a hospital or nursing home.

The increased vulnerability that comes with old age is a hard fact, but that doesn’t make it any easier to accept. It’s important, then, that we consider the realities of aging and death, and find ways to make the experience less painful.

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