Health Briefs


Medical costs: Boston bomb victims are facing huge bills

Cost of amputating a leg? At least $20,000. Cost of an artificial leg? More than $50,000 for the most high-tech models. Cost of an amputee's rehab? Often tens of thousands of dollars more.

These are just a fraction of the medical expenses victims of the Boston Marathon bombing will face.

A huge Boston city fund has already collected more than $23 million in individual and corporate donations.

No one knows yet if those donations -- plus health insurance, hospital charity funds and other sources -- will be enough to cover the bills. Few will even hazard a guess as to what the total medical bill will be for a tragedy that killed three people and wounded more than 260. At least 15 people lost limbs.

Health economist Ted Miller noted that treating just one traumatic brain injury can cost millions.

Amputees may face the steepest costs, and artificial legs are the costliest. They range from about $7,200 for a basic below-the-knee model to as much as $90,000 for a high-tech microprocessor-controlled full leg, said Dr. Terrence Sheehan, medical director of the Amputee Coalition.

Legs need to be replaced every few years, or more often for very active users or those who gain or lose weight. Limb sockets need to be replaced even more often. 

Fitness: Lifelong exercise can postpone aging

While you can't defy aging's impact on your speed and fitness forever, research shows that you can push back, hard. You can markedly slow your decline and postpone tumbling off the fitness cliff that some people encounter in old age. And the gains may transfer from athletics to the tasks of daily life.

The tonic, you won't be surprised to learn, is regular, lifelong exercise to condition your cardiovascular and neuromuscular systems.

When Scott Trappe, director of the human performance laboratory at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., and colleagues tested nine elite, lifelong athletes older than 80, they found their cardiovascular fitness to be "comparable to non-endurance-trained men 40 years younger," according to Trappe's 2012 paper in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

A major reason for that is the strength of their well-conditioned hearts. "Once you get to late middle age, 45 to 60, the heart starts to shrink and stiffen," said Benjamin Levine, director of the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. "And that makes it less able to expand when you start pumping blood back to it, and therefore you can't send as much volume" to the muscles.

"People who have trained their whole lives, they can prevent that from happening," he said.

Memory: How we remember and how we forget

Many of us hold on to memories as though they were security blankets. Recollections of whom we've met, what we've seen and how we've felt connect us to one another and play a large part in how we define ourselves.

And yet, these memories may be less accurate than we believe, according to a new book.

In "Pieces of Light," Charles Fernyhough, a psychologist who teaches at Durham University in England, shows that our memories are fragile and quite mutable.

Weaving scientific research from psychology, neuroscience and evolutionary biology, Fernyhough explains that our brains don't record experiences as cameras do; rather, we store key elements, then reconstruct the experiences when we need them, imbuing them with present-day feelings and the benefit of hindsight.

The result, he says, "may be vivid and convincing, but vividness does not guarantee accuracy."


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