ZEN+ : Helping you Stay Young and Age Well

Let’s talk about death and dying…

By Marcus Santer


My favourite quote from this weeks research:

“We have no greater unfixables
than ageing and death themselves.”
Dr Atul Gawande

Damn you BBC Radio 4!

Yesterday, whilst taking a break from editing The Healthy Ageing Pyramid book, I wondered into the kitchen ready to grind my coffee beans and make myself a well deserved cup of black liquid heaven.

As I measured out the beans I heard some guy on the radio say:

“To have mastery of the scriptures
is to know which passages to read into
and which to read past…”

What, what, what?

That was it.

My attention was grabbed.

40 minutes later I dragged myself out of the kitchen and away from the radio.

What happened?

I’d walked in on the BBC’s annual Reith Lecture.

Started in 1948 by the BBC’s first director general Sir John Reith.

Reith maintained that broadcasting should be a public service which enriches the intellect and cultural life of the nation.

I agree.

The first Reith lecture was by the philosopher Bertrand Russell and last years was by Professor Stephen Hawking talking about Black Holes.

Anyway, there I was 40 minutes behind schedule.

No big deal, I could make it up, I could get back on track adding the improvements to The HAP manuscript given to me by those who’ve already reviewed it like Dan John and Danny Kavadlo.

So what did I do?

Did I get back to the blinking cursor of my word processor and pound the keys?


I fired up the Internet and went trawling through the past Reith lectures.

I didn’t get far (2014) before I stumbled across Dr Atul Gawande’s lecture: The Future of Medicine

That was it, I knew my well planned day was about to go down the toilet.

But I didn’t mind.

For the last 5 years I’ve been following where my enthusiasm, interest and findings take me.

Trusting in inspiration.

So I jumped in with both feet…

In particular Dr Gawande’s lecture: The Problem of Hubris had me enthralled.

So much so, I even downloaded the transcript and read it and re-read it.

Here’s one of my favourite snippets, from when Dr Gawande is talking about how a nurse who provides hospice care sees her role:

“She said that medicine normally will sacrifice your time and your quality of life now for the sake of possible time in the future.

But as that possible time fades and the costs of the quality of life rise, you switch; at some point along the way you have to make the transition.

And then she’s there, she said, to use all of our medical capabilities to give you the best possible day today, regardless of what it means for your time in the future.”


Don’t know why, but that brought a real lump to my throat.


In the Q and A at the end of the lecture a member of the audience asks a question about where we are in the battle between ‘a dignified mortality and a kind of frantic search for immortality’.

In his reply Dr Gawande mentions a study done at the Massachusetts General Hospital.

They took patients with Stage IV lung cancer – incurable cancer where patients lived on average just 11 months – and half of them were given the usual oncology care and the other half got the usual oncology care plus they met a palliative care physician who could discuss with them what their priorities and goals might be for their end of life.

Here are some of the findings:

And here’s the real eye opener…

They lived 25 percent longer.


Now as you know I’m committed to sharing proven ways to help you live and age better.

To live as good a life as possible all the way to the very end.

So all this talk about death might seem inappropriate to you.

But personally, I needed to be reminded that there is frailty and there is death.

And listening to this lecture I learned that for those facing death being able to talk about their priorities and goals for their end of life:

Means they’re less likely to die in hospital or ICU

And that’s got to be a good thing for everyone involved right?


Bye for now


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