Finding the Cure
This issue of Clinical Geriatrics is the last of the calendar year. I thank you, the reader, for your continued interest in our Journal and for the comments we have received. This issue appropriately contains an article that offers hope for the future. Drs. Erlich, Ghayee, and Noga write on chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and the many advances in treatment that now give hope of a “cure” to the increasing number of older patients who will be affected with this potentially life-threatening and disabling illness.
Over the years I have seen many illnesses conquered, although the list of illnesses never seems to end. In some ways, new diseases always appear to surface just when you think you have made progress. “Cure” is now the ultimate goal and potential outcome of therapy for many diseases that not long ago were considered incurable; all we could hope for was preservation of function and as good a quality of life as possible. We still have a long way to go, however, before a cure is found for many diseases such as cancer, and even many infections like hepatitis C and HIV. These seem to remain elusive and a challenge despite great efforts at finding a cure.
As we learn more about the etiology of certain diseases, finding ways to prevent their occurrence will also continue as a priority. One of the current teachings about caring for older persons is that not all diseases can be cured; treatment aimed at maintaining one’s functional ability is the key role of the clinician. The aging patient will most certainly have a greater chance of developing certain illnesses that we call “age-prevalent,” although just how many will be able to be cured over time remains to be seen. Although a cure will certainly lead to improved quality of life for those potentially affected and will save resources that otherwise would need to be spent dealing with the problem, caution is advised prior to considering that the ultimate fountain of youth and eternal life are around the corner.
Computer-generated models have reported that even if we were to cure all cancer and heart disease, our average life expectancy would only increase approximately 8 years, with no change noted in maximal lifespan for the human species. That said, I for one would welcome 8 additional years if they were guaranteed to be of high quality and disease free. I am pleased that a cure for CLL is perhaps closer than we previously believed. We now have the capability of curing many childhood leukemias that not too many years ago were deemed incurable; quality of life is important for all, and life is precious, even for the older person who suffers from CLL or other similar illnesses. As we approach the New Year, I hope that you will take a moment to review where we have been and look forward to the excitement that comes with each New Year’s beginning. Fortunately, advances in medicine continue to give new hope and promise to individuals of all ages.
Enjoy the holiday season and have a Happy New Year!
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