For years Dr. Dennis McCullough watched his elderly mother’s health decline. She lived independently. Then she lived in a nursing home. Then she grew disoriented, exhausted and unhappy.

One day she asked McCullough why it was so hard to die.

“Every night she prayed to die and she wasn’t able to,” he told a crowd of 50 community members at Bates College on Wednesday evening. Behind him, a photo of his mother flashed on screen.

The well-meaning nursing home staff pushed her to eat, to participate in activities. McCullough’s mother was just too old, sick and tired to do anything more. She said she wanted to stop. Her family listened. McCullough’s mother moved to hospice, where virtually all of her medication was stopped. She was allowed to sleep as much as she wanted (22 hours a day) and eat as much as she wanted (small meals, not always regularly) and do what she wanted (enjoy a view of the woods and spend time with visiting family).

Soon, McCullough’s mother died. At the end, he said, she was not only more mentally aware than she had been in the nursing home but she was also happier.

Her story is the focus of his book, “My Mother, Your Mother: Embracing ‘Slow Medicine,’ The Compassionate Approach to Caring for Your Aging Loved Ones.” On Wednesday, both her story and the book were the focus of McCullough’s talk at Bates College.

The presentation was sponsored by Central Maine Medical Center and Androscoggin Home Care and Hospice as part of the hospital’s Mini-Medical School educational series.

For an hour-and-a-half, McCullough, a geriatrician and faculty member at Dartmouth Medical School in New Hampshire, spoke about the plight of the elderly and their caregivers in a medical system that is increasingly concerned about speed, efficiency and major medical interventions. In his speech he outlined the eight stations of elderly life — stability, compromise, crisis, recovery, decline, prelude to dying, death and grieving/legacy — and followed each with a poem story.

He encouraged families to get to know elderly members, their needs and wants. He suggested families and doctors give elderly patients time to make their own decisions, all while offering support. And he advocated for more compassionate care and less hurried, less efficiency-driven medicine when it comes to elderly patients.

McCullough called it “slow medicine.” He advocates for it in his book. He believes many elderly people and their families can benefit from it.

And it was, he said, what his mother needed in her last days.

“Think of it as a re-balancing of medicine,” he said.

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