Discover more from Understandably by Bill Murphy Jr.
Better than the alternative
We live longer, but there's a catch, but there's no need to be ungrateful for it. Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
I like to laugh, and sometimes I think that I like to laugh at myself most of all. So, I'll start today by remembering a personal milestone.
This was only a few years ago, when I was writing the Inc. This Morning daily newsletter (which ultimately inspired this newsletter), and which meant I checked in on Zoom most days with two full-time employees at Inc.com.
They were good colleagues. I think the top editor was in her 30s, and her assistant editor was in his 20s. I had a few more years on them. One afternoon I told them I would have to skip our meeting the next day for a medical appointment.
Editor #1: “I hope it's nothing serious.”
Editor #2: “Sorry you have to go through it.”
Me: “Meh, it’s just one of those annoying things about getting older. It's better than the alternative!”
My instinctive choice of those last five words cracked me up; I laughed so hard I think the young whippersnappers on the Zoom call might have thought I'd had an attack.
Truly, I imagined that balloons might fall from the ceiling and a band might appear out of nowhere to celebrate the rhetorical occasion.
"Oh my God," I said when I caught my breath. "I can't believe I'm now officially old enough to say things like 'better than the alternative!' when people ask about going to the doctor."
With that story in mind, let's pivot to a study out of the Penn State and Texas State University this week that says older adults in the United States are much more likely to have a significant number of chronic health problems than older adults from previous generations did.
Researchers examined data relating to 33,598 Americans aged 51+ from the well-respected Health and Retirement Study. The study measured "multimorbidity" (which might now be my least favorite word in the English language) by counting the incidence of nine chronic conditions:
cancer (excluding skin cancer)
high depressive symptoms,
and cognitive impairment.
In general, they found that older Americans today report having more of these chronic conditions and to have been diagnosed earlier in life, than previous generations.
The article, published in The Journals of Gerontology, goes on to discuss how this is unexpected—I mean, medical science is supposed to have improved, right?—and to offer potential reasons why.
A few of the explanations have to do with the obesity epidemic, and lack of affordable health care for many Americans.
But the article also sort of tucks in a last-minute additional explanation. Here, let's let study co-author Nicholas Bishop, assistant professor at Texas State University, take the stage:
"[A]dvanced medical treatments may enable individuals to live with multiple chronic conditions that once would have proven fatal, potentially increasing the likelihood that any one person experiences multimorbidity."
To translate that into before-I've-had-my-coffee layman's terms:
The reason why older people today might suffer from more medical issues than in years past … is that in years past, those medical issues might have killed them.
Sure enough, just take a quick glance at the trends in overall longevity statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. There's a bit of quibbling to be done with the individual data points, but the trend is clear, in the right direction, and explanatory. We live longer!
(There's also an additional positive explanation for the increase in number of medical conditions: We're a lot better at diagnosing things now. )
Anyway, as much as many of us might like to imagine we're the exceptions to the rule, none of us lives forever.
And while I hope and pray for a long and healthy life—for myself, for my family, for every person who reads these words (but why limit it to that? let's just say, "for everyone")—the actuaries among us know the statistical truths.
Still, I come back to the phrase that made me laugh: "Better than the alternative."
At the risk of sounding like I look for the far-reaching metaphorical life lesson in virtually everything I experience (welcome to my world), it applies in so many realms…
You live longer, but you deal with medical challenges as you get older? Better than the alternative.
You realize as you grow older that you probably should have done things differently? Better than the alternative.
You're alive and kicking and striving but you're worried about inflation and the recession that might be around the corner? Better than the alternative.
More on that last point tomorrow, by the way. I'll see you there. Better than the alternative.
7 other things worth knowing today
The Federal Reserve on Wednesday raised interest rates by 0.75%, the largest move it has made in a single meeting since 1994. The central bank also messaged that further interest rate hikes will come this year, as the Fed leans on higher borrowing costs to dampen demand and work to slow faster-than-expected inflation. (Yahoo Finance)
A federal grand jury indicted a California man on federal charges of attempting to murder Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Nicholas Roske, 26, was arrested near Kavanaugh's Maryland home with a handgun and burglary tools. Roske apparently called 911 to report that he had a firearm and was having suicidal thoughts. He was arrested by local police while still on the line. (Axios)
Japan's Diet passed revisions to the Penal Code providing up to a year in jail and "a fine up to 300,000 yen (about $2,200)" for cyberbullying, two years after a reality show cast member died following online abuse. (The Mainichi)
In one of the many ongoing age discrimination lawsuits against IBM, Big Blue has been ordered to produce internal emails in which former CEO Ginny Rometty and former SVP of Human Resources Diane Gherson discuss efforts to get rid of older employees (apparently called "dinobabies" in internal IBM lexicon). (The Register)
An emerging disease is set to get a new coat of paint. Officials at the World Health Organization announced this week that they will soon choose a different name for the disease known as monkeypox—one intended to avoid the stigmatization and inaccuracy of its current moniker. (Gizmodo)
A commercial bus driver has been charged with 38 counts of reckless endangerment after blacking out behind the steering wheel while snacking on gummies he says he didn’t know were infused with THC. Police said they found Jinhuan Chen slumped unconscious in the driver's seat on Interstate 95, next to an open package of Smokies Edibles Cannabis Infused Fruit Chews. "I didn’t know it was marijuana," Chen told the court via a Chinese interpreter. "I didn’t know." (Fox News)
I sometimes think they hold these air travel shows in order to introduce ideas that make today's flight foibles seem like less of a big deal: "Here's what it might be like to travel on a double decker airplane seat." (CNN)
Thanks for reading. Photo credit: Pixabay. Want to see all my mistakes … yet another day and I STILL haven’t had a chance to update, but most of them are here.