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Medicine Science Technology

High Tech Elder Care May Be Mixed Blessing 96

Posted by Soulskill
from the there's-an-app-for-that dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Gerontologists say 'aging in place' vastly improves the quality of life for seniors, and is a lot cheaper for society than group homes and institutions. The trick is to do so without jeopardizing the health and safety of older people, which is why 480 people are taking part in pilot programs in Portland, Oregon that outfit homes with technology so elderly people can be monitored for illness or infirmity. With the first wave of baby boomers turning 65 this year, corporations such as Intel see lucrative new business opportunities tending to a generation of people accustomed to doing things their own way. As part of a test, Dorothy Rutherford's two-bedroom condominium has been outfitted with an array of electronic monitoring gear that might eventually find its way to retail shelves. Motion sensors along hallways and ceilings record her gait and walking speed. A monitor on her back door observes when she leaves the house, and another one on the refrigerator keeps tabs on how often she's eating. A special bed laced with sensors can assess breathing patterns, heart rate and general sleep quality, a pill box fitted with electronic switches records when medication is taken, and a Wii video game system has been rejiggered so that players stand on a platform that measures their weight and balance. But there is the downside, as some experts on the aging population worry that making it easier for elderly people to stay in their homes could reduce the incentive for children to visit or could create a false sense that technology can foresee every problem and address every need."
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High Tech Elder Care May Be Mixed Blessing

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    The average life expectancy of someone in a nursing home is 2 - 3 years. This could be a huge leap forward in increasing the quality of life for the elderly, and I look forward to the tech that will be in place when I'm that old.

    • by jte (707188)

      The average life expectancy of someone in a nursing home is 2 - 3 years. This could be a huge leap forward in increasing the quality of life for the elderly, and I look forward to the tech that will be in place when I'm that old.

      In that case, LE in the nursing home will decrease further, as the level of monitoring and direct care in the home improves and nursing homes become more for end-of-life care - care that still won't be provided in the home.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...could reduce the incentive for children to visit or could create a false sense that technology can foresee every problem and address every need.

    Seriously?
    The first one makes no sense and the second is, you know, obvious.

    Maybe those "experts" should retire, they may be getting as old as the people they are studying.

    • by hsmyers (142611) *

      The second is already true as well as obvious. The first is a stretch on the second in that kids who don't really give a damn in the first place may use the existence of such tech as an excuse to skip checking up on the old folks at home. Truth of the matter is that either the kids care or they don't---such additions to the scene won't make much of a difference. Frankly, when the time came I was much more comfortable visiting my mother at home in surroundings that we were both 'comfortable' in; so anything

      • Indeed, for anyone who would use "the technology cares for you" as an excuse not to come, "the people working in your retirement home are caring for you" is an even better excuse. Especially if they can add "and you have also so many other people living there to talk to."

  • Technology might make people lazy. What else is new?

    We'll cope, so long as we do something about the lawsuits. I'm wondering if the liability factor might make this technology just as expensive as a group home.

    • by arielCo (995647)

      Technology might make people lazy. What else is new?

      Wait till you're 70+. Your definitions of laziness might shift a bit.

      We'll cope, so long as we do something about the lawsuits. I'm wondering if the liability factor might make this technology just as expensive as a group home.

      Now you're talking. Since the first time I saw what was being done in Japan with robots, exoskeletons etc. I've been thinking "what would happen if one eventually malfunctions and drops an old lady?". OMG ROBOTS HURT OLD PEOPLE! Anyone *thinking* of implementing this has thought of that, but so did manufacturers of mobility devices or *any* medical equipment, with the ensuing insurance costs. Is a broken hip more scandalous because a weird

  • by Anonymous Coward

    or could create a false sense that technology can foresee every problem and address every need."

    This makes about as much sense as the assertion that seatbelts are dangerous because they encourage people to drive recklessly.

  • by Whuffo (1043790) on Sunday June 19, 2011 @08:54AM (#36490546) Homepage Journal
    GE and Intel are lining up for a big suck on the elder care teat. It's nice that some monitor in some remote location will beep when they have a problem - but by the time they get the message, and get a medical team on site (from Wyoming?) it's going to be a bit on the "too late" side. Letting the old folks live out their lives and die at home is a good thing; they'll enjoy a better quality of life and they won't be stuck with crippling medical bills. But I'm having a little trouble figuring out how a few dozen kilobucks worth of GE and Intel stuff is going to do anything to improve their lives. The only winners here are the corporations - with luck, they can get federal healthcare funds to pay for all of it (at properly inflated prices).
    • by vlm (69642) on Sunday June 19, 2011 @09:22AM (#36490630)

      they'll enjoy a better quality of life

      Oddly enough I only see physical health gadgets. No gadgets for mental health at all. You'd think they could have made even a simple token gesture attempt. Perhaps the stereotypical video conferencing solution, or digital picture frames of the grand kids, or something, something at all.

      they won't be stuck with crippling medical bills.

      These corporations are not doing work out of the goodness of their heart, in the style of from each according to their ability and to each according to their need. The whole point of this technological exercise is a DIFFERENT group will be delivering the crippling medical bills, instead of the current group. Is this group any better? Eh, probably, more or less. The good news they aren't getting the negative personal interactions and experiences of a nursing home for awhile longer. The bad news is their only personal interaction now seems to be a Wii-based bathroom scale.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        These corporations are not doing work out of the goodness of their heart, in the style of from each according to their ability and to each according to their need. The whole point of this technological exercise is a DIFFERENT group will be delivering the crippling medical bills, instead of the current group.

        Mark my words, they are planning for a government program which will deliver the money directly into their coffers. We ARE talking about GE here.

      • by Manatra (948767)
        There is a lot of research going into mental health gadgets as well. It's just that they're a bit tougher to make since they involve a lot of stuff related to machine learning and artificial intelligence. One of my Professor's at the University of Waterloo has been working on a system using off the shelf parts to help Alzheimer's sufferers be more independent in their home and thus help lessen the burden that typically falls on their children to care after them. I'm talking things such as reminding a suffer
      • by timeOday (582209)

        Oddly enough I only see physical health gadgets. No gadgets for mental health at all.

        I guess that would be Facebook. Seniors have special physical needs, but I don't think their social needs are much different than anybody else.

      • by azimir (316998)
        " Oddly enough I only see physical health gadgets. No gadgets for mental health at all. You'd think they could have made even a simple token gesture attempt. Perhaps the stereotypical video conferencing solution, or digital picture frames of the grand kids, or something, something at all."

        FTA: "Rutherford is playing the word jumble game. The results of the game, as well as typos and even the intervals between keystrokes, are monitored for abnormalities that could foreshadow physical or mental infirmity."
    • by Idbar (1034346)
      bad mouthing?

      corporations such as Intel see lucrative new business opportunities tending to a generation of people accustomed to doing things their own way.

      what people is not used to doing things their own? Why is it better to send people away to a place that is not home, and what is it bad developing tools to control habits.

      But I'm with you, this doesn't seem as preventive, but forensic or informative. You can keep trak of schedules though. Such as "why the shower sensor hasn't been triggered" or "why is it running for so long", or "why the kitchen hasn't been visited, and the doors haven't been opened". I think it's is still a goo way to keep

    • by cpu6502 (1960974)

      >>>But I'm having a little trouble figuring out how a few dozen kilobucks worth of GE and Intel stuff is going to do anything to improve their lives.

      You can stop your kids from nagging you to move to a nursing home. "Look you little brat. I bought this heart monitor. As soon as I have an attack, it will call 911, plus shock me back to life, so stop bugging me. So stop worrying about me."

      I would sooner die a year or two earlier in my OWN home, then live longer in an elder home. I have the right

      • by Luckyo (1726890) on Sunday June 19, 2011 @10:02AM (#36490798)

        Most of the elderly have a problem with their kids not visiting them nearly enough, and their mental health suffering greatly from loneliness as a result. I would know, I worked in elder care on a summer job and being the only guy I actually didn't have to wash/take care of person hygiene of anyone in spite of that being one of the main tasks.

        Know why? Because I was the only young guy who applied and got the job, and my main job consisted of just going to old men's places and talking to them or doing some heavy lifting for them. Frankly, I think that's also what put a lot of thing in perspective for me back then - I was a young kid, and seeing just how lonely these people were on a personal level taught me to really appreciate my own life. Because when it was pretty damn obvious that for those months I worked there, the person's high point of the day was my 15-minute visit to deliver him the newspaper and food, and chat him up to see how things are makes you really appreciate how good your own life is even in the angsty late teen period.

        Sometimes I think that maybe a mandatory service for all youth a la conscription to work at a elderly care for a few months or a year would be a good thing, and not just for the system.

        • by cpu6502 (1960974) on Sunday June 19, 2011 @12:13PM (#36491372)

          One problem with our society is that we build our relationships around work.
          Once we retire, the work friendships disappear, and people are left with nothing. Back during the agrarian age, our friendships were mostly local neighbors who were always present right upto death.

        • by Finite9 (757961)

          I agree. I've had a few relatives in homes, and think it's demeaning how they are generally treat, and just plain tragic that the last few years of a persons life should be spent like that. I wish that politicians especially were made to spend time in elderly homes, maybe then there would be some real changes to how the elderly system works.

        • Funny, my high point of the day is when I get a not-so-motherly hug and/or kiss from one of the better looking teachers at my high school. And usually the total interaction is 15 seconds or less (keep it down with the jokes, please?). It's not that I don't have friends, or that they are not diverse. It's just that lack of a life partner at my point of mental development is screwing me up more ways than I can count. I'm 17, mental age - about mid 30ies - I believe I speak for both age groups when I say - cut
    • Letting the old folks live out their lives and die at home is a good thing; they'll enjoy a better quality of life and they won't be stuck with crippling medical bills.

      But I'm having a little trouble figuring out how a few dozen kilobucks worth of GE and Intel stuff is going to do anything to improve their lives.

      Did you even read what you wrote?

  • by Shivetya (243324) on Sunday June 19, 2011 @09:02AM (#36490570) Homepage Journal

    My mother has been diabetic for thirty plus years. Currently she uses a pump which has a sensor system which can partially measure her glucose level. It is not terribly accurate and has to be calibrated a lot. She is still required to test her blood sugar levels a few times a day as she is NOT allowed to rely on the sensor readings for accuracy. If she gets very low at night it beeps then eventually vibrates. So it can at least determine relative levels of glucose and report the direction its going but they are not convenient. The sensor has to be changed every three days (they are not cheap) and there is a decent failure rate.

    So what am I getting at. I like the direction this is going and I do not believe it will make a nation of shut ins or have families feel as if they can ignore their elders. If they are going to ignore their elders (parents) then they will regardless of what technology does. If anything this might help keep them in contact more often because like the article states you can be told if mom took her medicine, if she is eating regularly. I would not mind a monitoring system which could alert on emergencies because that is the real point of all this monitoring - we cannot be there 24x7 but machines can.

    I would certainly be willing to pay for monitoring of my parents health so that emergency persons can be sent when the need arises. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is not something you can recover from unless you catch it quickly. My mother can stay conscious with blood sugar levels in the 40s but when it gets below 60 she acts "silly drunk" and may not realize the trouble she is in. At the same time 500+ in her can be fine but it should be noted because in diabetes one common thing I have found is far too many doctors don't agree on causes or when something is a problem, let alone how to always fix it.

    More monitoring options will add more years of good living. Now this opens up the next problem, paying for all these years. For some of us giving up the little things won't be hard for the big things in life.

  • by frozentier (1542099) on Sunday June 19, 2011 @09:02AM (#36490572)
    The problem isn't that workers don't know the patients are sick. That's why a person is in a nursing home in the first place, because they have something wrong with them that makes it impossible to care for themselves. The problem is that workers in some of these places get complacent, and let the elderly lie in one spot for days at a time until they get bed sores, or let them lay in their own excrement, or make them suffer in other ways just because it's too inconvenient to fulfill their needs. Unfortunately neither this technology nor any other is going to fix that.
    • And apparently I didn't read the article close enough to realize they are talking about people in their homes.
    • Re:The problem... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@@@gmail...com> on Sunday June 19, 2011 @10:00AM (#36490790) Journal

      And also it isn't like the families don't try to do what they can, it simply gets overwhelming and you end up with no choice. I'm probably gonna have to send my mom to a home next week. I hate to do it, I really do, but she has fallen six times in 4 weeks, the last one cracked her head and the first one broke 6 ribs. You simply can't stay up 24/7 to watch them like a hawk and when it is just me and the two boys and the oldest is in college? As I said nobody can stay awake forever.

      The biggest bitch is all the docs can tell me is what it isn't. It isn't her heart, her liver is working, etc. gee thanks, that really helps. It still doesn't explain why a 68 year old woman was perfectly fine, doing her own shopping, cooking her own meals, etc and then within 24 hours is having "spells" where she just rambles like a mad woman and when she walks sometimes it is like cutting the strings on a puppet. I mean no warning, no her legs are getting weak and giving out, I mean it literally looks like a ragdoll puppet that the strings were cut, she doesn't even make a sound or try to catch herself, she just takes a header.

      Of course when she is having a spell you can't tell her she shouldn't try walking alone, that just makes her angry and along with the sudden personality switches and mood swings freaks the hell out of the boys especially after losing their mom to cancer in 07. Finally trying to deal with her affairs and keep the family home, that my oldest will end up dropping out of med school to try to keep because he'll be damned if he loses the home his grandpa built and the place where his mom grew up, while my GF is having to live 250 miles away because of HER elderly relative (her dad) having a heart attack so he can't be left alone, the stress is frankly driving me into an early grave. The lack of sleep and constantly trying to make ever more money while spending as much time with her as possible (because shit for the elderly sure as fuck ain't cheap) has got me eating aspirin by the handful to deal with the chest pains which is nothing but stress I'm sure. hell I cracked a tooth a few weeks back dragging a case down from a shelf and I can't even get the damned painful bitch fixed as I'm spending money like shit through a goose trying to keep her place and mine too.

      So it isn't like most of us just want to dump our family on the state, we just end up without any choice in the matter. As I said docs don't have a fricking clue, we can't afford live in help so that we can actually sleep, and even as we speak she is in the hospital from her last fall so we can't just leave her be for a few hours because she will end up trying to go to the bathroom by herself and splitting her head open. So all I can do is hope the local nursing home doesn't suck, because with more than 25k owed on her house and trying to deal with everything else I just can't do anymore. A man can only stay awake for so long, ya know?

      • Re:The problem... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by CptNerd (455084) <adiseker@lexonia.net> on Sunday June 19, 2011 @10:43AM (#36490974) Homepage

        You need to get your mother to a neurologist ASAP. It sounds like she's having transient ischemic attacks, which some call "mini-strokes". My mom had them before she had her real strokes, including the one that ended her life. TIAs can cause all kinds of physical and mental problems, which pass as the brain manages to work around the minor damage, but which have cumulative effects.

        I had to help my Mom take care of my Dad when he had Alzheimers, we managed to take care of him at home until almost the end, but it did get to the point where we couldn't handle the stress and the medical problems any more. We ended up putting him in a dismal hellhole of a "home" where he lasted about 3 months before the last medical emergency.

        I never married and have no kids, so I'm used to living alone, but it sure would be nice to have things that can help me once I start getting to the point of needing help lifting or walking, or remembering, for example.

        • There are a number of other things in the differential of a rapidly declining mental status in a middle aged woman. But if Hairyfeet's mom hasn't seen a neurologist (or perhaps several including a visit to the academic neurologists at the local University) then that is certainly a good step. Unfortunately, we are reasonably good at telling you what disease you have and much worse at telling you anything useful on how to treat it.

          The Central Nervous System is hard to understand. But there ARE a few di
          • by hairyfeet (841228)

            But wouldn't mini strokes show up in a CT or MRI? Because she has had those, blood work, you name it they have poked and prodded and basically are to the point of throwing darts at a dartboard. hell I don't blame the docs, they have run just about every damned thing they know to run, they just ain't finding squat.

            The doc says "just to be safe" he is gonna treat her like she has a clot just in case there is one that has gotten by, but as I said her symptoms are just weird. like don't mini strokes cause them

            • Sounds very, very odd. But for someone that young with such a panoply of symptoms, having someone else review the case carefully can (occasionally) find something useful or point to a diagnostic or treatment direction that isn't apparent. Obviously hard for me to say anything specific. The trick is figuring out who to send her to. That's where University Medical centers with their tendency towards sub sub specialization can be helpful. Her primary doc hopefully is plugged into the local system (or at l
            • by CptNerd (455084)

              It really matters where in the brain the TIA occurs, and the harsh matter is, they most often don't leave a trace. Often the only way to really tell is by the symptoms, depending on what part or parts of the brain the TIA occurs.

              I can definitely sympathize with what you're going through taking care of her. You're used to this person being able to do things for themselves, and even teaching you how to do things, only to have them become more and more helpless. It's a disturbing feeling, and don't be surpr

          • by Xacid (560407)

            "Unfortunately, we are reasonably good at telling you what disease you have and much worse at telling you anything useful on how to treat it."

            I think even if there are no treatment options, if a neurologist can figure out what's going on at least this person will know what they're up against. It's often easier to face a demon that has a name, in my limited experience.

            I'm certainly no doctor but if everything else appears to be in working order I'd imagine the brain would be the best place to be looking at t

      • by nbauman (624611)

        There are many obscure diseases and sometimes it can be almost impossible for the best specialists to diagnose them in the best hospitals.

        I assume you've taken your mother to one of the best academic hospitals in your area. It's worth spending the effort on a good diagnosis, if that can keep her out of a nursing home. But if you've done that, then you've done all you can do. Sometimes they just can't find the cause.

      • It still doesn't explain why a 68 year old woman was perfectly fine, doing her own shopping, cooking her own meals, etc and then within 24 hours is having "spells" where she just rambles like a mad woman and when she walks sometimes it is like cutting the strings on a puppet. I mean no warning, no her legs are getting weak and giving out, I mean it literally looks like a ragdoll puppet that the strings were cut, she doesn't even make a sound or try to catch herself, she just takes a header.

        Sounds exactly like my mother. Turned out she was having a form of cerebral ischemia called "microstrokes", which are so small that they don't show up on CAT scans, but over time made her weaker and weaker. Every time this happened, she went limp like a ragdoll, and a few seconds later was surprised to find herself on the floor.

        she is in the hospital from her last fall so we can't just leave her be for a few hours because she will end up trying to go to the bathroom by herself and splitting her head open.

        While in hospital my mother did go to the bathroom herself, did fall, did split her head open. Two days later, she died. Maybe is was her time.

    • by couchslug (175151)

      Even good workers aren't telepathic. More tools in the toolbox give more ways to get the job done.

      Lack of use or misuse is another issue.

  • by Legion303 (97901) on Sunday June 19, 2011 @09:26AM (#36490646) Homepage

    If your children are only visiting you because they're afraid you might be dead, you need better children.

    On the flip side, if they're only visiting because they're hoping you're dead, you should have been a better parent.

    • by timeOday (582209)

      If your children are only visiting you because they're afraid you might be dead, you need better children.

      Easy to say. In reality, people often live thousands of miles from their parents, the decline of old age takes decades, and the "kids" are middle-aged and dealing with divorces, troubled teens, illness, unemployment - all the usual junk that derails up the life we envisioned.

  • There is a places between a nursing home and living alone. lots Retirement homes with different lvls of care and service. A lot of them allow people to eat or cook alone or when no longer able to eat in the common rooms. A lot of people are really happy there ( a lot hate it too) and often there are even in outdoor bunglow type apartments

    We have prolonged life but not the quality of life, and this tech does not address this. A dying process that used to take 2 months is now drawn out for 2 years co

    • by Anonymous Coward

      There is a places between a nursing home and living alone. lots Retirement homes with different lvls of care and service. A lot of them allow people to eat or cook alone or when no longer able to eat in the common rooms. A lot of people are really happy there ( a lot hate it too) and often there are even in outdoor bunglow type apartments
      We have prolonged life but not the quality of life, and this tech does not address this. A dying process that used to take 2 months is now drawn out for 2 years costing untold piles of money and untold extra grief and pain for the patient and the family.

      1) Almost all retirement/nursing homes/communities have highly differing levels of care. This is not a particularly new thing. My grandparents moved into a retirement condo and then 15 years later upgraded to assisted living (and 2 years later upgraded a level within that).

      2) Quality of life is not improved? I STRONGLY disagree and would wonder how you can say that. My grandmother is currently 90+ and would have died probably 10+ years ago without modern treatments. In the last 5 years macular degeneration

  • This technology isn't particularly new -- telehealth has been around in some forms for a few decades, but it's definitely taking off now.

    One of the benefits not mentioned is that, in addition to 'remote monitoring,' telehealth services generate a huge amount of useful data for clinicians. Our telehealth program collects weight, blood pressure, pulse, and (for diabetic patients) blood sugar readings daily. It takes less than five minutes for the patient to do these tests.

    In turn, their physician and care tea

  • by Kjella (173770) on Sunday June 19, 2011 @10:09AM (#36490826) Homepage

    High tech care may be a mixed blessing, but what we do know for certain is that human care will get worse. The ratio of working population to retirees will change a lot over the next 30 years, Already nurses and home aid are on the stop watch, you can't make it that much more effective to matter. Meanwhile a lot of the industry has gone from making a thousand to a million units with robots, automation and computers. A gadget will be getting cheaper and cheaper while human time gets more and more expensive. Politicians can lie as much as they like but looking at the fundamentals you see that it is inevitable.

  • by trout007 (975317) on Sunday June 19, 2011 @10:14AM (#36490846)

    Can they program these robots to steal the old persons valuables too?

  • by Drathos (1092) on Sunday June 19, 2011 @10:16AM (#36490858)

    Upon seeing the headline, my first thought was of Roujin Z [wikipedia.org].

    I guess that's for when they can't get by on their own and simple monitoring won't do.

  • by PPH (736903) on Sunday June 19, 2011 @11:11AM (#36491110)

    ... an alarm to warn the neighborhood when grandpa fires up his Cadillac.

    • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Sunday June 19, 2011 @11:48AM (#36491252) Homepage

      ... an alarm to warn the neighborhood when grandpa fires up his Cadillac.

      Just remove the muffler.

    • pull a fuse and also partially detach a spark cable boot on the generator end. If he shouldn't be driving, he'll either be too blind to notice it missing, won't think to look for it, or will forget what he was doing under the hood by the time he gets it open or at least gets one of them fixed. I'd suggest that it's safest legally if the car is in your name or a joint title.

  • This is a good idea for people that are close to having to go to a nursing home. The monitoring system will show when they can't take care of themselves any more. This could be months or even years. A good nursing home costs an arm and a leg and your first born child, while staying home is much cheaper, and a small victory every day. What ever they are going to charge for monitoring is still less than a good nursing home.
  • Part of the reason we started MEDgle ( http://www.medgle.com/ [medgle.com] ) was to help make sense of all the data that is (EHRs) and will be (sensors) generated. The huge amount of data generated needs to be analyzed and prioritized before being presented to caregivers. At MEDgle, our focus is to enable scalable health by facilitating the distribution of care tasks to the most cost effective individual while ensuring quality of care through real-time clinical intelligence. Though as the article points out there is a
  • ... and could be solved by a high-tech, or even a bunch of low-tech, devices. But electronic monitoring can only go so far.

    If the elderly person cannot interpret what they are told by a screen (or a disembodied voice reading it), a human caregiver must be present. In a timely manner. _Every time_. A familiar son or daughter over the phone is not enough for someone with a form of dementia, or a case of Just Plain Stubborn. There is no substitute for being there.

    As many commenters pointed out, eldercare wi

  • by Anonymous Coward

    As a nurse who has dealt with these issues a LOT, a few points to make.
    *Electronics will never replace human beings, they supplement them. Monitors can tell you some things, but nothing replaces someone who knows an elder looking and talking and ensuring that they "look ok". Current technology is not nearly accurate enough to ensure anyone's health, machines are too picky and have to be placed "just right", broken phone line bolluxes all your telehealth technology, batteries fail, and elders get tired of th

  • I don't think we need THAT much tech in grandmas house... Simply because it wouldn't work. On the other hand, something like an iPhone has more than enough capability to monitor health and emergency status with built in sensors and a few attachments. I liked the idea of using a Wii in that manner too.

    My grandmother lived to 90's. The BIG factor was being in her home and access to prompt help. "minor" injuries are what "kill" most old people. A broken bone or untreated sore turns into multiple surgeries and

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