The cause of the disability can have a tremendous effect on our dealing with it. Our attitude toward life and suffering drives our response. Attitudes of people in our environment can either encourage our coping or cripple us for the rest of our life.
This is best seen when looking at people born with disabilities. They do not recognize their disability as such directly, but only by comparing themselves to others. This applies even to each one of us, since we all have our strengths and weaknesses. Unless we are conditioned toward a great lack of confidence, we will ignore most of our weaknesses or use them to improve ourselves. History has taught us that many a great man had serious problems to overcome in his youth, or was forced through disability to concentrate on matters that helped him to develop his expertise. In the latter half of the 20th century it became better recognized that physical disabilities leave much room for people to excel, that is if we can provide them with the resources. A few examples: a) Stephen Hawking is a famous professor in Astronomy and a quadriplegic. b) The Paralytics brings together athletes from all over the world with disabilities to compete in an Olympic event. c) I witnessed the growing up of the son of a friend of mine who has cerebral palsy. When he was 12 his hands were almost immobile. A game of Nintendo helped him to compete with his sister of 10, using the joystick, until he could beat her. This helped making his hands much more flexible. This encouraged his father to buy him a computer. He quickly learned to peck away at the keyboard and gave him an additional tool to communicate, which was otherwise very hard because of his speech impairment. He then got a notebook computer, which allowed him to take part in regular classes, while keeping up with the pace. He followed through in University and attained a degree in Compute Science. Now he has been for several years in the work force, successfully competing with able bodied people.
When we become disabled in the middle of our life, this can be devastating. We are missing our previously enjoyed Quality of Life. We tend to feel guilty, sorry for our selves or just plain miserable. When I broke my leg recently in a snowboarding accident, I got my leg and foot in a cast for several weeks. This left me unable to walk without crutches and with enough time on my hand to think about the seriousness of disabilities. I felt very frustrated not being able to do the most simple tasks. I felt most annoyed not being able to take my daily shower and many of the things I had learned to take for granted. I got a better appreciation for the need for parking spots for the 'Disabled', and the amount of energy needed to transport oneself on crutches over only short distances. I found it hard to learn to accept help from others. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that many people are very happy to lend a helping hand. My wife had to tell me that that I should let people help me because they really want to. On the other hand, I found that this new condition provided me with new challenges to make me try new things. But here also, my wife wisely had to slow me down to protect myself from taking to high risks and accept being a true patient and learn patience!
My good fortune was that this disability was only temporary. I have great sympathy with those whose disability is permanent. Feelings of frustration can be overshadowed by feelings of self-pity and hopelessness. Yet, while this condition is serious, one must not give up hope and learn to live with it. Learn to adjust and accept the new challenge. Ignore the past pleasures, keep them as treasured memories, while concentrating on living the new life under the new conditions.
Aging is the reason why the term Quality of Life came into being, because it is so much paired with the development of disabilities. Fortunately, we are beginning to learn what is natural aging and what is the result of a poor lifestyle or of illness. Until we can clearly distinguish the differences we will not be able to improve the Quality of Life of the elderly. We must learn what can be avoided and how. Also, as with other disabled people, we must learn to give them the tools to cope with it.
While the 'western' population is rapidly aging progress in gerontology and bioengineering is extremely slow. Gerontology is hampered by the fact that there are few doctors willing to specialize in it. Bioengineering is hampered by the fact that it requires the unique combination of two degrees: one in engineering the other in medicine, while the pay for these people is less than an engineer makes in industry, which is much less than an MD makes in his practice. Yet, these people produce the most wonderful things, while the gerontologists are key to getting rid of all the prejudices and old wives tales about aging.
We know a lot about nutrition now, yet not enough. We are starting to learn about environmental factors. We ignore the accumulative poisoning by trace elements or organics, such as mercury and dioxins, while we have proof of same by DDT. We are getting more knowledgeable about the influence of fats on high blood pressure, yet we ignore the effect of milk and sugar on hardening of the arteries. We are certain of the beneficial effects of ferrous iron, but we ignore the detrimental effects of ferric iron. We know that chelation therapy helps clean the body from heavy metals and free radicals, yet, we carry on using unreliable operations to accomplish the same at a much higher risk of death.
We are stifled by 'traditional medical practitioners' who control the regulatory bodies and who are unwilling to give alternative medicine a chance. It gets time that we wake up, before it is too late.