Iron Lungs of Gerontology, Alzheimer’s and Aging

Tuberculosis, also known as the white plague, was the leading cause of death in the middle ages and remained as one of the 3 major causes of death into the early decades of the 20th century. Patients in Manitoba infected with tuberculosis were usually sent to the sanatorium in Ninette, Manitoba to recuperate from tubercular bacillus.

The advent of anti-tuberculous antibiotics changed that and Ninette has become an abandoned historic site.  When polio became an epidemic in the early 1950’s, those patients who had bulbar polio and paralysis of their respiratory muscles could only survive with machines called iron lungs. Manitoba archives show wards at one of the city’s hospitals with thousands of patients  in such incubators.

Dr. Roy Walford in his textbook Maximum Life Span, detailed the choices that the medical profession had when confronted with epidemic outbreaks of polio. Here is a  quote from his textbook (pages  17-18):

“… Our long-term efforts should be for prevention ahead of treatment. The national Foundation for infantile Paralysis faced a similar kind of policy decision in the 1940s and 50s. It could have invested all its resources in perfecting better iron lungs. If that had been the choice, we would now have the best designed iron lungs imaginable, inhabited by thousands of polio victims. Instead of iron lungs the Foundation invested heavily in basic research on the conquest of polio. It was certainly the wiser decision. …” He goes on to say “…My point is that old-age homes and the vast social support structures  continuously accumulating to care for the helpless aged are the iron lungs of gerontology. Improvements in the social, economic,and medical support system for the elderly  will merely provide symptomatic relief for an expanding problem…” – Dr. Roy Walford

Of note, a similar worldwide vaccination program for smallpox was successful in irradicating the so-called red plague.

Author: Semeon Hrushovetz

Retired Physician, Researcher, Lifelong Learner. Promoting healthy aging and life extension. Visit or check my previous sites: blog: website:

Leave a Reply