Top 10 Boomer Health Stories of 2015
Here, we look back at the top stories affecting our health in 2015.
1. Physician Assisted Death
The legal ban on physician assisted death (PAD) was struck down with a unanimous Supreme Court decision on Feb. 6, 2015.
It’s set to expire on Feb. 6, 2016, with lawmakers getting a year to rewrite the law. But the feds have requested an extra six months to figure it out.
Meanwhile In Quebec, they jumped the gun. PAD became law on Dec. 10 but was delayed by an injunction and appeal. Quebec insists that PAD is a health issue and therefore a provincial matter. The feds disagree.
2. Caitlin Gender, er, Jenner
The transformation of Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner into Caitlin Marie at the age of 65 opened doors for a widespread discussion of transgenderism. The new focus on transgenderism prompted Ontario to improve access to sex-assignment surgeries paid for by OHIP.
All qualified health-care providers throughout the province will be able to refer patients for this surgery starting in 2016. Previously, referrals were limited to the Gender Identity Clinic at CAMH.
Health Minister Eric Hoskins said more and more Ontarians are experiencing gender dysphoria. In 2015, there was more than a two-year wait for surgery, with a wait list of more than 1,000 people. Currently, gender-reassignment surgery isn’t available in
3. Killer Bacon, Risky Steak
Processed meats — bacon, sausages, ham, hot dogs, salami, corned beef, jerky — cause cancer, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It seems that 50g of processed meat a day — less than two slices of bacon — increases the chance of developing colorectal cancer by 18 per cent.
Main methods of processing are smoking, curing, or adding salt or preservatives.
Red meats also were deemed “probably carcinogenic.”
High temperature cooking of meat, such as barbecuing, can also create carcinogenic chemicals.
With more Canadians hospitalized for heart failure than for all forms of cancer and an average life span from diagnosis to death of 2.1 years (worse than most cancers), cardiovascular regenerative medicine has become a critical and high-profile area of research.
5. Bespoke Treatments
Because of technology and genomics, personalized medicine is the latest and incredibly effective approach to precise diagnosis and treatment of cancer, cardiovascular disease and irritable bowel syndrome.
For example, it was discovered this year that a prenatal blood test intended to find genetic flaws in a fetus can in rare cases also reveal previously undiagnosed cancer in the mother.
6. Common OTC Drugs and a Prostate Cancer Treatment Raise Dementia Risk
Studies found that some common drugs and treatments increased the risk of dementia, including OTC sleep aids and allergy medicines such as Benadryl.
Some other antihistamines, tricyclic antidepressants, medications to control overactive bladder and drugs to relieve symptoms of Parkinson’s disease also block the action of a neurotransmitter involved in learning and memory.
In a study of 3,500 men and women ages 65 and older, researchers found that people who used these anticholigenic drugs were more likely to develop dementia. The risk increased along with the cumulative dose.
Taking them for three years or more was associated with a 54 per cent higher dementia risk than taking the same dose for three months or less.
7. Prostate Cancer
In 2105, prostate cancer was the most common cancer for men and the second leading cause of death for men with cancer. (About 2 in 5 Canadians will develop cancer in their lifetime; 89 per cent of them will be over the age of 50.)
About 1 in 8 men will develop prostate cancer (compared to 1 in 9 women who will develop breast cancer).
Elevated PSA levels (prostate-specific antigen) can be an indication of prostate cancer but the PSA test is still not covered by most provincial health plans, including OHIP. It has not been recommended as a screening tool, mostly because of the concern over false positives and unnecessary biopsies — but many doctors nevertheless suggest that their older male patients get tested.
A recent Canadian study did show (logically) that routinely repeating a PSA test in patients with an elevated PSA level is a way to decrease unnecessary biopsies.
Meanwhile, some aggressive prostate cancers aren’t being diagnosed early enough without regular PSA testing.
8. Scifi Transplants
The most extensive face plant ever undertaken gave a volunteer fireman who’d been severely disfigured in 2001 a complete new face, neck, scalp and ears. The surgery at New York University’s medical centre lasted 26 hours and left no visible scars.
It’s considered an historic medical achievement. More than two dozen face transplants have been performed worldwide since the first one in France in 2005.
9. Brain Breakthroughs
A literal brain breakthrough was achieved at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre this fall with an experimental procedure that bypassed the brain-blood barrier non-invasively.
It was the first time that drugs could be administered to a specific part of the brain without injection or surgery. The technique involved focusing ultrasound waves to force tiny air bubblies carrying medication through the Saran wrap-like tissue that surrounds the brain as a protective barrier and into the affected area of the brain itself. It’s expected to be a more efficient, safer and more precise way of treating diseases of the brain.
The innovative procedure was used first for brain cancer but its success means that drugs for dementia and Alzheimer’s will be able to be administered this way as well.
10) Slow Aging, Fast Dying
The goal now, it seems, is no longevity but remaining young as long as possible and then dropping dead before any sign of deterioration.
It’s going from extended adolescence to rigor mortis without even a moment of senescence. (Increasingly popular with boomers, extreme sports are a way to accomplish that.)
Other approaches for extending youthfulness include supplement cocktails (with or without hormones and steroids), cosmetic enhancement (surgical or insanely expensive cosmeceuticals), severely restricted diets and health foods, wearable electronics for tracking punishing exercise, and giving up sitting down.
Then, when the peak has been reached, the “give me youth or give me death” movement takes over, with 75 as the typical cut-off age.
Physician Ezekiel Emanuel kicked it off last year by writing in The Atlantic, “Why I Hope To Die At 75.” When he turns 75, he plans to stop statins and antihypertensives, and decline antibiotics. He explained that 75 was based on studies of when disability begins to overtake productivity and creativity.