Shakespeare summed it all up in this famous speech from As You Like It when he split life into seven stages.
Ever since these seven stages have been recognised as accurate – and we base most of the medical care throughout the world on them – from paediatrics to geriatrics there is an “atrics” for each one.
When a doctor qualifies, they can choose to be a general practice physician or specialise in one of the seven areas. A surgeon straddles all the specialties, but a doctor who concentrates on, say, IVF gender selection, works firmly within the “soldier” camp of the seven stages.
Common with all seven stages, of course, is the question of money. None of the medical care, at any stage, comes cheap. It is well known that IVF gender selection cost is extremely high, and if you’re not paying privately you may have to undergo preimplantation genetic screening as the IVF success rates must be higher than average to be considered for “free” treatment.
The goal of any fertility clinic is to have donor eggs or frozen embryos become viable embryo transfers.
Once a baby is successfully delivered, it enters the first of Shakespeare’s stages – infancy. Here it learns and develops to become an independent human being – able to walk, talk and communicate with other humans. Doctors, known as paediatricians, specialise at this stage of human life. If a baby has a low birth weight, a mental health problem or needs critical care or some other paediatric emergency, it’s logical that a specialist in childhood illnesses deals with these.
Child health continues into the second stage of life – that of the schoolboy (as Shakespeare put it). School children are susceptible to injuries in normal play activities and in doing sports. As well as the fractures and sprains, this stage of life is also the one where viruses like measles, chickenpox and mumps strike as the body’s immune system ramps up, and mingling with other children of the same age creates the perfect mechanism for passing these diseases on. Doctors are crucial in keeping these potential pandemics at bay.
The next stage of life starts with sexual awakening, leaving home and striking out so into the big wide world. Sexually transmitted diseases and actual killers like AIDS and HIV are major threats to this age group and specialist trained doctors deal with the delicate issues surrounding the dynamics of these infections and viruses. In addition, post-Covid, particularly, mental health issues like depression, coupled with drug use and alcohol abuse, make up a large percentage of this age group’s ailments.
Shakespeare defines the next age as that of the soldier. This is a time when you are finding your feet – beginning a career, a business, a long-term relationship, perhaps marriage, starting a family, travelling, or buying a house. In medical terms these years are when genetic disorders such as diabetes, Crohn’s disease, clinical depressions and cancers, for example, appear. Specialist family doctors, counsellors, and psychotherapists, physiotherapists and social workers augment the practice doctors at this stage of life to keep people ticking along.
Midlife is really the next phase – this is when people start to put on weight, eat more, travel more and drink more. They are at the other end of their working life, and some are even lucky enough to retire early.
This is the period where heart disease, high cholesterol, vascular problems and mobility issues begin to surface. Cancers and reproductive ageing also become issues, and physical activity slows. Primary care, at this age, concentrates on diets, exercise, stress reduction and general well-being. Prevention is the name of the game, and research has shown that prevention via diet and exercise around this age pays massive dividends in terms of life expectancy and health in later life.
The final stages of life, according to Shakespeare, seem quite dire – but end of life care has come on a bit in the modern world and old age is nothing to be afraid of now.
Geriatric medicine is of a high standard and is improving constantly. The major problem for elderly people tends to be mobility. Whether this is because of joint pain or other debilitating medical conditions such as diabetes or muscular wasting diseases, cancers or heart and circulatory problems. By catching these conditions early with screening the resultant symptoms can be mitigated.
Fall prevention is one of the major challenges in later life as the body slows and becomes less responsive. Exercise, diet and mental well-being all play a role in preventing such problems with mobility. There are a wide range of aged care equipment suppliers who stock everything from electric wheelchairs to devices that grip tin cans to aid opening them, and stairlifts and pulley systems to help with bathing and getting in and out of bed.
Doctors play an important role throughout all of these life stages and are trained to spot common symptoms and ailments before they become a major issue. Medicine improves by the day, and doctor’s training improves along with this pushing forward of medical frontiers to benefit everyone at whatever age and stage of life they are.