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Growing Old Disgracefully

11 May 2014, 16:30
About one year ago I was diagnosed with colon cancer, had the thing removed, and have been clear of cancer since then. This inevitably made me think about longevity and what might happen to me in the future. Then I read a very interesting article in News Magazine (on-line) by Mary Beard (Historian Mary Beard is professor of classics at Cambridge University).

She relates the following story:

"Once upon a time, according to ancient Greek mythology, the goddess of Dawn fell in love with a Trojan prince called Tithonus. She was so besotted with him that she went to Zeus, the king of the gods, to ask that Tithonus be made immortal. Zeus agreed, but Dawn had been foolish - she had asked for (and received) eternal life for her lover, she had forgotten to ask for eternal youth. The result was that Tithonus just got older and older and older, though he never died.

"Dawn at first looked after him at home, 'nourishing him with the food of the gods and dressing him in rich clothing', as one Greek poet put it in the 7th Century BC. But eventually, when he became absolutely incapacitated, Dawn locked the poor man away. Or, as the same poet goes on, 'when awful old age pressed down upon him, she put him away in an inner room of the house and shut the shining doors'. You could hear his 'ghastly babbling' ever after, but he could not move a limb".

This story is sadly true for many elderly people today.

So to live a long life with the concomitant aches and pains, or not? That is the question, to paraphrase Shakespeare.

I often marvel at the younger generation stating (without thinking?) that they would not like to be around till they were 90 or 100. I wonder if, when they reach 89 they would still feel the same?  What, I think, they mean is that living like a lot of elderly people with dementia, Alzheimers, arthritis, osteoporosis etc, would be unacceptable to them.

I suppose as a 78-year-old (going on 50) I would rate as an elderly person. I do have a wonky knee (a legacy from rugby in my youth) and a back that talks to me every now and then, but hey, I had a next-door neighbour who, at 30 something, suffered excruciating pain after three operations on his back and had to have a morphine pump inserted under his skin in order to function. So really I have a lot to be thankful for.

There is no doubt that some elderly people can be extremely annoying. I really feel sorry for the old toppies saying proudly that they know nothing about computers and are not interested in learning about them. So yes, I can understand why the youth would say that they are not interested in growing very old. But I am here to tell you that it doesn't need to be like that.

Obviously, some of us are lucky enough to have picked the right parents. My father and grandfather reached over 90 and that was before modern medicine made it possible to live much longer. (I'm sure that if I had developed cancer in my grandfather's time, I would not have been around to write this article). So how to stay relatively young?

Well firstly you have to do what young people do. (within reason of course, I certainly won't be able to run a marathon anymore and the last time I rode a bike I actually fell off . The important thing was, that I got on again) Learn to use a computer, the internet, social media and write articles for News 24. You certainly need to keep your mind active. Learn a new skill. My daughter who is not as young as she used to be, has embarked on a one-year chef's course and she is VERY excited about it. Stop smoking!

Young people do not have the sole rights to having sex. If you find it difficult to keep up, there are various pills that can help you. Just be quite open about it with your spouse or significant other. If you don't have either, there are lots of ladies who would be quite happy to accommodate you. Go looking on the internet if you don't believe me.

Two of the diseases of old age (and not so old age) that are completely treatable are obesity and Type 2 diabetes. (DM2) I am busy losing weight at a rate of knots and my DM2 is under control thanks to the Banting way of life. To read more read:

Don't be afraid of taking pills. Go see a doctor regularly who will prescribe pills like Enalapril for blood pressure and Simvastatin for cholesterol. These will keep your cholesterol and blood pressure on an even keel even if these two parameters are quite normal.

Finally having said all that, I do believe that when the time comes and your body tells you that it's had enough, life should not be prolonged unnecessarily. To quote Mary Beard:

"I can't help thinking here that some of the modern medical profession have made much the same mistake as the goddess Dawn. Why on earth, when so many doctors themselves wish for a quick death from a massive heart attack, do they expend such efforts (and money) in preventing their patients from having exactly that, consigning us to the expensive and nightmare world of the very old and the very decrepit?"

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