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Medical advances help people live longer, which raises questions about the quality of that longer life.
By RICHARD AMRHINE
STORIES ABOUT medical break- throughs are in the news almost every day. New treatments and new drugs show promise. Long-term studies offer lessons in healthy living. Statistics show that these advances are helping Americans live longer.
As a result of their increasing life spans, more people are living long enough to develop the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. Notice that I refer to the symptoms of Alzheimer's, because the disease cannot be diagnosed with certainty without an autopsy. Part of geriatric research deals with differentiating between Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.
It is human nature to pursue a long life. Back in 1513, explorer Juan Ponce de Leon searched Florida for the legendary fountain of youth. (All of the retirees who move there these days claim that it's because of the weather. I'm not so sure.)
What we are discovering is not necessarily a fountain of youth, but the path to a longer life. And the path leads not to a fountain, but to the world's medical research laboratories. Cancer patients are living longer than ever, many in remission after receiving diagnoses that were virtual death sentences just a few years ago. Perhaps our children will live to see a cancer cure.
Major advancements are also being reported for victims of heart, lung, and kidney diseases. Organ transplants are extending the lives of more Americans every day. Nearly 25,000 transplants were performed in 2002, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.
People are also choosing healthier lifestyles. The number of cigarette-smoking Americans declines each year, promising longer life in exchange for rejecting the evil weed.
We are constantly reminded about the health benefits of regular exercise and proper diet.
Technologies such as auto seatbelts and airbags mean people who might have died in traffic accidents aren't.
But at some point we may begin to wonder whether the longer life we instinctively seek is worth living. After someone provides long-term care for an aging parent, or simply visits a nursing home, it's easy to wonder what's so great about living so long.