Why ageing is a problem

It would be easy, in hindsight, to be a know-it-all and say that the reasons ageing is a problem are obvious; the truth is, until a few years ago, I was just as blind about it as most of the rest of the world.

The first reason, however obvious it may be, is that ageing makes you sick. Some people think ageing is just a ‘risk factor’ for certain diseases, but that’s crazy nonsense. The diseases of old age come from your own body falling apart, and as things stand, if you live long enough, you’re granted to get every single age-related disease. In practice this doesn’t happen, of course, simply because one of the age-related diseases you get will kill you before you can get the others. Talk about a cold comfort…

This is a good moment to say something that goes against common knowledge. There’s no such thing as dying of ‘old age’. Whether you’re 20 or 20000 doesn’t really matter. What matter is your health. If your health at age 20 is the same as the typical health of a 90-year-old of today, you can expect not to see your 25th birthday. If your health at age 80 were to somehow be the same as a typical 20-year-old’s, you could expect to live to 140. You don’t die because you’re ‘old’. You die because you’re sick. While there are some relatively lucky people who die peacefully in their sleep with not too many terrible age-related health problems, the rule is: As you get older, your health goes downhill, causing you a number of conditions, which can be more or less serious and symptomatic depending on your specific case. The list includes sarcopenia, macular degeneration, hear loss, cancer, type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cerebrovascular diseases, reduced immunity, Parkinson’s diseases, Alzheimer’s diseases and more generally dementia, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, and the list could go on, really, but I only got 3 GB of space on WordPress and I have barely just started.

The consequences of getting the nasty stuff above are obvious: You can’t see or hear well; you’re weak, fragile, and tire extremely easily; you’re more susceptible to infectious diseases, and even a cold can turn into pneumonia and kill you; you become increasingly unable to take care of yourself and become a social and economical burden on others (see below); things you could once do on your own now require assistance or are downright impossible, like walking, taking care of your personal hygiene, dressing up autonomously, preparing your own food, tending to your business, doing things you like, having fun, going on a date, having sex, helping out with your grandchildren, not looking like crap and not dying.

To summarise, reason number one is, ageing makes you sick, and while it’s at it, it kills you.

The reason I just gave would be enough to convince me, but wait! There’s more.

As they get sicker and sicker, old people become less independent, of course, and they need looking after. Whether this burden falls upon their families or society, it still sucks for both parties involved. Not only grandpa cannot help out with his grandkids, but he needs to be watched over as well. Sure thing, his family is nice and kind, and they know it’s not grandpa’s fault if his health is crap. They don’t complain and they don’t throw it in his face, but thing is, they already have enough troubles on their own, and they could very well do without the extra troubles caused by grandpa’s health and lack of independence. Grandpa knows this, and he’s saddened by it, especially because there’s nothing he can do about it, really. It also sucks for his family to see how badly he’s doing, and to be powerless before his suffering and eventually his death. Sometimes (and I’ve seen this first-hand), the health of an elderly is so bad their last days are a horrible agony, and the pain their dear ones go through during that time is something I wish no one to ever experience.

Having to put your parents in a retirement house because you can’t take care of them is really no better. It’s not nice at all to have to tell them the news, and I bet it’s even worse for them to hear it. Not to mention that having buildings full of people who are basically just waiting to die, getting worse everyday, isn’t exactly a feather in society’s cap. No doubt hospices try to take care of the elderly, but the point is, it’s a losing battle. They can’t make old people’s health better, and they can’t save them from death. They’re just keeping them in one place because they’re easier to manage that way and they’re far from the eyes of people whom they’d cause suffering and trouble. I’m not saying hospices are conceived with ill intentions, but the end result is still sucky. In short: Ageing is a social burden.

Last but not least, ageing is an economic burden. I am not exactly a fan of money and our debatable economic system, but for as long as it’s going to be around the way it is, we should at least trying to make it work pseudo-decently, and as it happens, old people get money and don’t help creating more wealth. The number of people over 80 is going to skyrocket in the next few decades, and we’re gonna have one hell of a hard time trying to pay all those pensions. Additionally, expenses for elderly care and treatment constitute one of the largest parts—if not the largest part— of the budget of developed countries. We’re talking millions (if not billions) spent in care and treatments that bring little-to-no improvement to the lives of the elderly. There are plenty of other things we could do with that kind of money, if we didn’t have to spend them in this way.

Now, I’m no problemologist, but all considered, I do think ageing causes us a spot of trouble.

Next: Why people don’t see ageing as a problem >>

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