New York Times runs excellent Jane Brody column relying on nursing research to explore geriatric issues
January 25, 2005 -- Veteran health journalist Jane Brody's Personal Health column in today's New York Times relies heavily on a recent American Journal of Nursing (AJN) report by the University of South Carolina College of Nursing's Elaine J. Amella, RN, PhD, to address key issues people face as they age. The column, "Aging and Infirmity Are Twinned No Longer," stresses that many of the physical and mental problems commonly associated with aging are in fact preventable and/or treatable. The column is full of important practical information for our aging population, and it is an excellent example of journalistic reliance on nursing expertise. The Center commends Ms. Brody and the Times for the column.
The column notes that aging is of course associated with a host of problems, including diminishing organ function, but that these conditions proceed very differently in different individuals. Thus, the piece carefully distinguishes the "gradual physiological shutdowns associated with growing old" from a host of conditions that may be preventable or treatable. Common symptoms such as pain, diminished appetite and loss of mental or physical functioning may in fact be the result of drug toxicity, or treatable illnesses that manifest themselves differently in older persons, such as infections. In laying out these basic ideas, the piece includes two quotes from Dr. Amella which are apparently drawn from her AJN report. It goes on to discuss eight common symptoms, apparently relying directly on the AJN report, and what they might mean. For instance, a change in mental status may be the result of a change in medication; a fall may be the result of a toxic drug buildup, heart problems, or other issues; diminished appetite may relate to heart failure, pneumonia, or depression; incontinence may be caused by a urinary tract infection or specific medications, like diuretics. Brody lastly includes a discussion of depression, noting that this is not an inevitable feature of aging, and that Dr. Amella lists many potential causes, including substance abuse, chronic disease, declining functionality, loss of a loved one and the stress of caring for a loved one. Brody concludes: "The bottom line? Do not assume that a symptom is a normal sign of aging. Get it checked out without delay."
This column, and of course the nursing research on which it is based, strikes us as a great example of the kind of holistic, socially aware insight at which nursing excels. It's one thing to say, "here's a new drug for geriatric condition X," or "let's look at all the potential causes and issues related to condition X," or even, "here's a bunch of symptoms and potential causes that older people might want to consider." It's quite another to draw the deeper lesson that many of these conditions can be fixed despite traditional notions of aging, and to make a big deal of communicating that vital message to practitioners and the public. That kind of message may not garner as much media attention as the latest sensational "medical breakthrough," but it could have just as great an effect on public health.
The only issue we have with the piece is that it never explicitly identifies Dr. Amella as a nurse. Of course, in a perfect world, there would be no need to tell readers that a nursing professor with a doctorate is of course a nurse and not a physician. However, in a world where nurses are commonly portrayed as a kind of sub-physician or physician helper, many people may be under the impression that physicians train nurses. And when a media product cites "Dr. ____", it's our sense that most people assume a physician is being discussed. So it is always helpful to make crystal clear that a given expert is a nurse.
Please take a moment to thank Ms. Brody and the Times for this important, nursing-focused column. Send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org and please put "Jane Brody" in the subject line.
See the Personal Health column "Aging and Infirmity Are Twinned No Longer" by Jane Brody in the January 25, 2005 edition of the New York Times.