Friday, February 24, 2012

Is Your Parents' Health Your Destiny?

I attended a health technology forum recently in Silicon Valley, and, not surprisingly, the issue of health care for Baby Boomers came up. A number of promising new technologies and services are being developed to keep Boomers healthier and help them avoid expensive hospital stays as they age.

The people who are watching Boomer health most carefully, however, are not those creating and funding these new technologies; they are the children of the Boomers. As some speakers noted at the forum, many children of aging parents want to take steps now to avoid developing the chronic illnesses that they see their parents struggle with.

I thought about children of the Boomers when I read the article "12 Ways to Live a Better Life" in the Washington Post this week, based on the book 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans by gerontologist Karl A. Pillemer. The book compiles life advice from 1,000-plus elderly that Pillemer interviewed, including advice to make healthy changes early in life to help avoid the miseries of chronic disease later in life.

The Baby Boomers are certainly driving changes and innovation in health care. But their children, who are starting to see first-hand the effects of extending life without improving the quality of life, are the ones who will probably work hardest to decrease the high rate of chronic disease in the U.S.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Why Contagion Didn't Get an Oscar Nod

With the Academy Awards approaching, I'm wrapping up my yearly quest to see as many of the movies nominated for Best Picture as possible before the show. Working my way through the list of nominated movies, I enjoyed the clever film The Artist, even though I was initially loathe to watch a French silent film about actors set during the Depression.

But this year's Oscar nominations have been frustrating for me as well, because I thought that Contagion would be nominated for Best Picture or for another major Academy award. Hollywood politics no doubt played a part in the nominations. But I wonder whether the Academy's passover of Contagion comes from a more primal place.

Contagion, which I saw in the fall, was a very difficult movie to watch. Although the script sometimes veered into science lecture territory, in general the movie seemed realistic and frightening as it documented how quickly a lethal virus could spread worldwide.

For me, the movie brought up fresh memories of the 2009 swine flu (H1N1) pandemic. I had been concerned about swine flu, not panicked about it, and mostly allayed my fears by passing out bottles of hand sanitizer to family members.

Because my pediatrician did not have access to the new H1N1 vaccine, in the fall of 2009 I took the kids to a local clinic to get vaccinated, waiting in line with other families and seniors. As the line grew and wrapped around the block, a rumor spread that the clinic had run out of the vaccine.

Suddenly, the police showed up, as if they expected the parents and seniors to riot in the street (and do what? Toss sippy cups and canes at them?). Their presence did not calm people down. It just made all of us nervous: what was going on? As it turned out, the clinic did have enough vaccine, and after waiting several hours in line, the kids got their shots. But the edginess in the line, and in the city, was real.

Now, many of us don't think much about the possibility of another influenza pandemic, until a movie like Contagion is released. Or until researchers are asked to suspend their work on developing a flu strain that is considered a biosecurity threat, as happened earlier this year.

Everyone's a little jumpy these days. Maybe even Hollywood, whose idea of entertainment includes a mother in a coma (The Descendants) and an actor in a downward spiral (The Artist), finds a movie about a global pandemic a bit too disturbing.