Ageing with dignity and respect: An Editorial Comment

Bartholomew A Ochia
Editor of Age and Nutrition

We wish to draw our readers’ attention to our motto: “That Man shall Age with Dignity and Vitality”.

In some societies, developed, developing and underdeveloped alike, the elderly folks in the community are regarded as people who have made it to the top. The weak and the infirm die young. Old age is equated with wisdom; and the older a person gets, the greater is the respect accorded to him/her.

Here, in Scotland, the very old and infirm are predominantly cared for in homes. We think this is a good idea, since the homes are managed marvellously well, and the diets are carefully formulated. But still there is something lacking. Visit any of the homes and you see most of the residents sitting seemingly dejectedly oblivious of their surroundings. You could even read the thoughts racing through in their heads: “This is the last rung of the ladder of life. What else is left but to die?”

It is our opinion that the elderly residents in homes need much more than material comfort for sustenance. They need moral support. They need to feel that they are still important and, above all, that they still belong. We owe it to them to fulfil these needs.

Relatives should make it a point of duty to visit their elderly regularly; encourage them to develop new interests, and show them that they are needed and admired and respected. Our elderly should be listened to, not shouted at or argued with, not least for their long and vast experience of life. Above all, as much as possible, our elderly should be encouraged to live in their own houses. The government and local authorities can, in one way or another, as far as the present financial stringency will permit, help the free-living elderly to engage live-in domestic assistants. The joy in this is that the elderly are in their own homes, surrounded by their favourite objects and memorabilia and have a constant somebody to talk to readily.

Improvements in living standards, environmental sanitation and medical facilities in Scotland mean that men and women are living longer. It is the aim of Age and Nutrition to encourage our readers, irrespective of age, to adopt healthy lifestyles and seek moderation in their feeding habits, so that they develop and age healthily and full of vitality.

Mankind has been obsessed, from the dawn of civilisation, with the desire to attain extreme old age. In the Bible, 70 years was the upper limit of human lifespan; living beyond that ‘three score and ten’ years was like living on borrowed time (Psalm 90:10).
In ancient and mediaeval times, futile efforts were made, by use of alchemy, to discover the “elixir” of life. The first emperor of China is said to have ordered his scouts to seek out some wise men who might know how to make that invaluable elixir. This type of search continued even after a period of 2000 years. Ponce de Leon thoroughly searched the wilderness of what is now known as the southern states of America, in the hope of finding the ‘Fountain of Youth’. Even at this present age the search continues for some Shangri-La where individuals may live for up to, or over, 150 years.
People are frantic for eternal life. There are those willing to invest their savings in the cryogenic movement – a movement which undertakes to freeze your body when you die and keep it until such time as science came up with a solution to whatever that killed them. At that moment the body could be defrosted and cured, and then you resume your life. In spite of these futile efforts, mankind still entertains the desire to extend human life to extreme old age.
Extreme longevity has been reported in certain remote regions of the world, where people are claimed to live to 150 years. Examples are the Hunzas who live in the remote Karakoram range of western Himalayan Mountains in Pakistan; the Abkhasia of the remote Caucasus region of Russia; and the inhabitants of Vilkabamba, a region high up in the Andes of Ecuador. These claims, although sensationalised by the mass media, have not been substantiated by serious scientific studies. It is suspected that these peoples exaggerate their average ages. Scientific opinion is that the more realistic highest average longevity of these peoples is about 96 years, a figure not much different from that of the rest of the world today or, even in early historical periods. For instance, Pythagoras died at the age of 91; Heraclitus of Ephesus, at 96; and Socrates, the Athenian, at 98. It therefore appears that the extreme longevity of yesteryears is not much different from that of today’s world.
It is not precisely known how long the human organism can possibly live. The opinion of most scientists is that the maximum attainable longevity is around 120 years. This seems to be the biological limit beyond which no person can be expected to live. However, there are certain factors which could dramatically increase this limit. Some of these factors are, and will be periodically, discussed in the Age and Nutrition web site.