In the news July 1, 2020
The coronavirus pandemic reminds me of the game called pick-up-sticks that kids have been playing for centuries. It may have originated in China (how’s that for irony?) but Native Americans have also been credited for its invention. It’s difficult to move a single stick without moving others, a situation that seems to be playing out in the many facets of COVID-19.
The big news this week is the surge in new cases, especially in California where the numbers are increasing by as much as 5,500 daily. But maybe those numbers reflect conditions that were not apparent or even present a month or so ago.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy of this pandemic is the high mortality rate among the elderly who have underlying diseases of the heart, lungs, kidneys and immune system. Depending on the area of the country they account for as much as ninety percent of deaths. The good news is that around the world healthcare systems are doing a better job of protecting them. That might help to explain why the global fatality rate has dropped from 7.0 percent on April 28th (from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center) to 6.2 percent on May 28th and 4.9 percent on June 28th.
Epidemiologists predicted early on that there would be a decrease in cases and then a new wave would arrive. China is a good example, a country that has locked down some major cities after having reported a dramatic decline in new cases. That is not a peculiar feature of the current pandemic; we know from past plagues that there could be several waves over months or years.
The mushrooming accessibility of testing also plays a role although it does not explain the rise by itself. Some states are reporting hospitalization figures that again threaten the capacity of hospitals to provide ICU beds. But there is some good news: overall, the percentage of infected patients requiring hospitalization is decreasing and so is the mortality rate among them as treatment methods improve.
Then there are “the invincibles” — young persons who don’t fear the virus, who congregate freely in bars, on beaches and various venues. Pardon the politics, but when tens of thousands of protesters disdain distancing and face masks while shouting and chanting it shouldn’t come as a great surprise that the age of infected – and hospitalized – persons is dropping. This week’s report by the San Diego Health Department noted that the greatest surge at the moment is among persons between the age of twenty and forty. To the great dismay of this younger crowd, bars, nightclubs and restaurants have again been ordered to shut down.
When we celebrate Independence Day this weekend let’s be grateful that the United States of America is not only a beacon of freedom but that it leads the world in innovation, compassion and generosity. For all those reasons we’ll emerge from the pandemic, the riots and the hurt economy like an injured bone that is stronger at the broken places.
Decreased mobility – another annoyance of aging.
As we age we become less mobile for many reasons. Weakness of muscles, stiffness of joints, diminished flexibility, carrying extra weight and neurological diseases add up to quite a mix. When you’re at the fitness center, watching those twenty-somethings bounce around, jump three feet onto a platform from a standing start and run for what seems like hours on the treadmill is really rubbing it in. The bright side is that those of us who move more slowly and deliberately are less likely to injure ourselves. Yeah! Right!
The truth however is that we can maintain strength, flexibility and speed (Well, not so much speed.) far longer than the average person if we work at it.
Why do old people shuffle? The answer is that they don’t have enough strength in their legs to raise their feet. The sedentary lifestyle not only weakens muscles, it diminishes blood circulation to those muscles. That means less oxygenation, less removal of waste products and less ability of muscle groups to stretch.
You might have noticed after reading these blogs that several of the so-called diseases of aging can be postponed with exercise. So simple, yet so true. If you can lose a few pounds through exercise it’s like taking off a heavy backpack. And less weight relieves pressure on the hip and knee joints.
And there’s another benefit of exercise. When your legs become stronger they provide a braking effect that prevents a hard landing with every step and less of an impact on your hips, knees, ankles and feet.
The unsteadiness that results from poor balance also affects our mobility and exercise helps there too by maintaining the health of spindle cells. These are attached to healthy muscle cells and explain why we can navigate or reach for objects with our eyes closed. Spindle cells provide position sense, the loss of which has nothing to do with aging. When muscle cells shrivel from lack of activity they take spindle cells with them.
There are lots of annoyances of aging that we can’t avoid but losing our mobility isn’t one of them until we hit the century mark. Just ask Don Pellman, the 100-year-old pole vaulter who also set records in the long jump, high jump and discus throw at the San Diego Senior Olympics in 2015.