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by
Theodore Dalrymple

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November 27, 2012 - 7:00 am
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At dinner the other night, a cardiologist spoke of the economic burden on modern society of the elderly. This, he said, could only increase as life expectancy improved.

I was not sure that he was right, and not merely because I am now fast approaching old age and do not like to consider myself (yet) a burden on or to society. A very large percentage of a person’s lifetime medical costs arise in the last six years of his life; and, after all, a person only dies once. Besides, and more importantly, it is clear that active old age is much more common than it once was. Eighty really is the new seventy, seventy the new sixty, and so forth. It is far from clear that the number of years of disabled or dependent life are increasing just because life expectancy is increasing.

There used to be a similar pessimism about cardiopulmonary resuscitation. What was the point of trying to restart the heart of someone whose heart had stopped if a) the chances of success were not very great, b) they were likely soon to have another cardiac arrest and so their long-term survival rate was low and c) even when restarted, the person whose heart it was would live burdened with neurological deficits caused by a period of hypoxia (low oxygen)?

A paper in the New England Journal of Medicine examines the question of whether rates of survival of cardiopulmonary resuscitation have improved over the last years and, if so, whether the patients who are resuscitated have a better neurological outcome.

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