Sunday, 15 December 2013

Longevity – a reason to be cheerful?

Musings written with considerable delay – should have been posted here a few weeks ago, as on 24 October 2013 my paternal grandparents had their 65th wedding anniversary and my paternal grandmother turned 88 on 3 November 2013.

My maternal grandmother died from cancer aged 73, when I was only four, so I barely remember her, but until the last weeks of her life, when the disease began to advance rapidly, she stayed mentally and physically fit. My maternal grandfather died aged 87 five years ago. Until the age of 86 he was mentally and physically very fit, but fortunately the senility overwhelming him in the last months of his life did not progress so quickly to prevent him from moving around and doing basic things on his own and by the end of his days he understood what was going on around and even sensed the oncoming departure.

My paternal grandparents still live on their own and somehow manage on their own. Their self-sufficiency can be attributed only to the fact they are together (also financially, as their pension benefits are demure).

Grandma is mentally still exceptionally fit. She displays no signs of dementia, is interested, sometimes overly, in what is going around, experiences no problems with memory and despite advanced age, her brain seems unaffected by aging. On the other hand, on account of her problems with spine, several bones and joints, she moves around with aid of walking stick. If she goes out of her flat, she only ambles outside her block of flats; any further journeys require somebody giving her a lift by car.

Grandpa, aged 87, on the other hand is moderately mentally and physically fit. When he feels well, he does the shopping, strolls around the neighbourhood and cleans the house. In terms of general comprehension of surrounding world, his mental fitness is much better than many of his peers, but nowhere as good as of his wife’s. Once in a few months he loses conscience and is taken to a hospital, where he recuperates, but then return home so weak that he stays in bed most of time, recovers for some next month and does well until next such incident strikes him. In 2012 he had 2 such stays in the hospital, in 2013 he landed in the hospital three times, last time in November. Doctors openly say odds of sustainable improvement in his health, owing to his age, are very low.

Polish language lacks the equivalent of ‘grand old age’, the term intuitively referring to a person who lived very long, but in good health. When you speak of far-reaching senility when an elderly person requires as much attention and aid as an infant, it is just an ‘old age'

I am lucky to assert none of my departed and living grandparents has reached that point when the old age is no longer grand. It is that sad moment when an old person no longer recognises their relatives, does not remember their own name, cannot be left at home alone, is bed-ridden, or unable to do the most mundane things on their own.

Aging of societies begins to pose a challenge for humanity, in economic and social terms. Higher percentage population in pension age elicit a need to reshape pension systems. Higher number of senile people and other social changes raise a question how to properly take care of elderly people and give rise to businesses focusing on such services.

For the last decades it has become a paradigm that each next generation will outlive the previous one. A recent study by WHO call this assertion into question and gives evidence current children are less fit than their parents and this will translate into lower life expectancy. No wonder, youngsters fall victim of their lifestyle –  being driven in cars by parents, avoiding sport lessons at school and doing sport in general, spending time in front of computer, rather than on football pitch. Even during breaks between classes at school they stare at their smartphones instead of running around. In Poland I observe things drifting in the wrong direction, in comparison to times when I was in primary school. With some dread my parents recently noticed their parents were much more fit (meaning healthy and active) when they had been in their early sixties then they are…

What to do to grow old and live until ripe old age in good health?
Have a lot of friends and foster friendships?
Be sociable?
Be open-minded and keep track of new developments in the world?
Have hobbies and passions?
Get enough physical exercise?
Do sports regularly?
Avoid using cars when unjustified?
Having medical examinations done regularly?
Refrain smoking and drinking alcohol in small amounts?
Follow a healthy diet?
Keeping work-life balance?
Avoiding stress?
Drawing pleasure from your work?
Extend the list above?

Or do the factors above it really matter? Is it all written in the stars? Or does it run in the genes?


Michael Dembinski said...

Let's think about the future - advances in medical science. It is not unfeasible to expect that a child born today could live to the age of 300; within say 50 years the technology to extend life by tinkering with our telomeres to around 120-150 years. And in say, 100 years from today, the technology would be around to extend life by a further 200 years.

What's the point? Simple. Multiplying our intelligence. Imagine Einstein still alive today, in top physical and mental condition. Can you imagine the contribution of geniuses who routinely reach super-centenarian ages? the sum of human wisdom would multiply exponentially...

Anonymous said...

Hi Bart,

I'm doing well at refraining from drinking alcohol in small amounts!