Why a Larger Senior Population Means Better Access to Advances in Health Care

Dec 14, 2017

In many ways there’s never been a better time in human history to be aging. As knee joints and shoulders give way, or with the first onset of disease, advances in surgery and preventive medicine have meant people can continue being active longer, and with more enjoyment. And the population on the Cape and Islands is well positioned to benefit from these advances. 

The game is pickleball. Here at the Quashnet Elementary school gymnasium in Mashpee, about 20 men and women—many seniors and some coming off surgeries—lunge, connect on overhead vollies, and sweat, playing what has been called the fastest growing racquet sport in the country.

For Joel Lubin of Falmouth, a 69-year-old lifelong athlete, it’s been a godsend. After a hip replacement in 2001, his doctor said no more basketball, no more softball… although he could try tennis.

“So I went out on the tennis court and someone hit a ball at me,”  Lubin said. “And it felt like someone snuck up on the court and nailed my feet to the ground. I had no lateral movement. It was very depressing.”

Lubin gave up tennis. Then in 2013, his other hip went, and he had surgery on his knee. He went through a more rigourous rehab. Soon after, he moved to the Cape and discovered pickelball—a game he could compete in to help him stay active. And have fun.

“To not play anything for 13 or 14 years… I really missed it. So it was a godsend. It was like a new lease on things.”

Lubin gets on the pickleball court 3 to 5 times a week now and even competes in tournaments. He’s part of a growing trend. Advances in medicine and rehabilitation have allowed seniors to stay active longer after surgery—which means staying healthier.

A recent study from Cape Cod Healthcare reports that one of the greatest health risks to the senior population is injury, which can lead to isolation and depression and a downward spiral.

Dr. Joseph Chase

Doctor Joseph Chase is an orthopedic surgeon practicing at Falmouth Hospital. “As technology and surgical procedures have evolved,” Chase said, “it’s allowed us to do more things to help keep people active.”

Chase said improvements in knee surgeries allow patients to get back on the court within a  month, even weeks. And it’s only getting better.

“Every year we go to these conferences, newer designs have been invented.  They’re lasting longer, they’re designed to keep people more active. Just from where we are now to ten years ago, there’s been incredible improvements.”

Cape Cod has twice the national average of people 65 and older.  That means more surgeons, and more surgeries.

“What Cape Cod Healthcare has done—and I’m a perfect example—has been very successful,” said Chase. “I used to practice in Boston, and everyone thinks ‘You have to got to Boston.’ But what Cape Cod Healthcare has done is bring doctors from Boston to the Cape, so you don’t have to go up to Boston.”

Orthopedic surgeons are not the only ones to see an increase in demand. Spaulding Rehabilition Center of Cape Cod  provides services to people coming out of injury, illness, or surgery. In 2015, the center added over 6,000 square-feet of space.

Instead of replacing and fixing old joints, Spaulding aims to help seniors and other patients rebuild and stay fit.

Laurie Crocker is a physical therapy supervisor with Spaulding.

“If you don't use it, you lose it. You get afraid, and fear kicks in, as well as just not moving the muscles you need to be able to balance,” Crocker said.

“As we get older and things slow down, we’re not processing as quickly and we’re losing parts of the system,” Crocker explained. “So it’s more challenging for us to balance. You take someone 75 years old with other issues and tell them to close their eyes—and they’re falling backwards. They’ve lost where they are in space.”

In early 2000s, Spaulding introduced an adaptive sports program. The program provides amputees, patients with MS, and seniors, equipment to take up sports like golf or kayaking, to stay active. Spaulding has since introduced other programs like Tai Chi, mindfulness, bicycling, even a boxing class.

Rock Steady Boxing, a class offered by Spaulding Rehabilitation, in Hyannis.

Rock Steady Boxing is a class for patients with Parkinsons. In a boxing gym in Hyannis, ten or so patients, mostly seniors, hit bags, jump rope and move while instructors shout and give pointers.

Boxing promotes balance and coordination, as well as what physical therapists call rhythmic movement.

“I’ve been diagonsed for two year.  Immediately I took a yoga class. But I needed some muscle building stuff. Something more explosive,” said Lee Gove, of Falmouth, at the gym. He was wearing sweatpants, his hands wrapped like a boxer.  “My daughter is a physical therapist at Spaulding, and she said, ‘I signed you up for some boxing classes.’ So here I am, and it’s been wonderful. It’s really fun.”

Health care is a critical component of the Cape Cod economy. It’s the largest employment sector, accounting for 15% of the wrokforce, or about 16,000 jobs.

And that’s not counting the $420,000 that Mashpee voters approved this fall to build 8 new pickleball courts.