Tuesday, 13 August 2013

The Tipping Point

This post  on the BBC health webpage by the excellent @nicktriggle explains the concept of 'healthy life expectancy'.  I was very surprised that this is actually formally measured. I suppose one should not be surprised when GDP and pension projections depend on the number of healthy older people who can make a contribution to the economy. The converse is also true. Even though lifestyles may be getting worse in some quarters with obesity and alcohol intake on the increase, drugs and other health interventions are lengthening lifespans irrespective of lifestyle. As a cardiac surgeon, I have noticed in recent years the increase in the number of premenopausal women who have been admitted with myocardial infarcts or heart attacks and referred for urgent coronary bypass surgery.  Invariably they are very overweight and heavy smokers.
A sharp rise in the number of unhealthy elderly people represents a demographic nightmare for health services around the world - non productive and big scale consumers of welfare and healthcare services.
For years, much has been written and said about the dangers of obesity, smoking and heavy drinking. And yet it always seemed as if these changes represented clear dangers to society at some point in the future - well the future is here now and we have reached a tipping point.
Who is it who predicted that we do not need as many hospital beds in the future?  Dive back into your crystal ball mystic Meg! I suspect that the type of facility required to deal with the surge of unhealthy elderly has not yet been invented.