The Scourge of Getting Old

Aging, though a marked process of accumulative change, is as overwhelmingly abstract and impossible as our own mortality and the measurement of time itself.  There is no denying that aging and time are a union of one profound reality, forming the foundational fundamentals of human experience – a reality we don’t quite understand.  It is true that most of us do not look forward to getting old, and dealing with many of the associated ailments of old age.  Sure we can increase or maintain physical activity, eat a healthy diet, manage stress, stop smoking, get adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D, avoid substance abuse, and stay mentally active, however the reality of aging is not something we can wholly circumvent by any means.  It is rather a constant in the cycle that is life.  Nevertheless many of us tend to overlook aging and its vital, necessary and even joyful affects on all human societies.

Throughout history, many traditional, non-literate and restricted societies respected and cherished the elderly, whose accumulative wealth of knowledge, skills, wisdom and mastery of the local technologies were renowned for their necessitating factors in subsistence.  In this respect, the death of a prominent elder meant the loss of resource and access to education.  However modern society presents an inversion to the traditional structure.  No longer bound by the limited accessibility of knowledge, application and technologies, our youth now possess, in many cases, a greater skill set and knowledge base than their parents and grandparents.  This is partly due to the increased cultural importance on cognitive function associated with the information age of computers and global communications.  Modern society, in many respects, has made old age irrelevant, compounded by the contemporary emphasis on autonomy, self-control, beauty and the ability to be productive and reproductive.  Aging is thus viewed as a redundancy that must be obscured – something less valuable, less meaningful and ultimately undesirable.  If we take a look at the mechanisms of our modern culture, such as journalism, advertisement, the internet, education, commercialism, politics and social media, we see a trend in the idolization of youth, whereby each of these factions labor to serve an 18-54 demographic.  So what happens when you reach the outskirts of this exclusive youth club?  Society tells us – nothing, because you no longer matter.  However interestingly enough, most of the prominent players in society are those actually over 54.  But let’s face it: aging is unpopular in North America and in most other industrialized countries.

In keeping with our need to stay young, the crusade for the Holy Grail of longevity has yielded some incredible scientific discoveries to include the successful rejuvenation and extending lifespan of model animals.  For those of us who wish to live longer looking younger, this is good news.  There are several drugs and food supplements on the market, which have been shown to retard or reverse the biological effects of aging in some animals, such as resveratrol, (a chemical found in red grapes), acetyl-L-carnitine and alpha-lipoic acid, the drug, MK-677 and rapamycin.  Studies based on and around these external factors are the first convincing evidence that the aging process can be slowed and that lifespan can be extended through drug therapy.  During this past year, longevity political parties have cropped up in Russia, the USA, Israel and the Netherlands, with the aim at providing political support to anti-aging and radical life extension research and technologies.  The general consensus within these lobbyist groups, political organizations and scientific communities, is to provide necessary funding and research that will make radical life extension and life without aging accessible to currently living people.

Despite recent scientific discovery and research into the fountain of youth, the cumbersome idea of aging continues to burden the youth psychology of today.  Contrary to popular belief however, aging is not necessarily an ultimate demise; rather it is, in many ways, delayed gratification.  In fact, studies have shown that people grow happier not grumpier, as they get older and tend to be more optimistic rather than cynical.  Ironically cynicism, is this respect, is reserved for the younger generations, who tend to dwell more on the negative aspects and associations of daily life as a result of a lack in coping mechanisms that accumulate with age.  Research shows that older people, for the most part, accept life as it is with less expectation than their younger counterparts. Psychologically speaking, the less we expect from life, the happier we will be, albeit by mitigating disappointment.  Despite the decline of the physical quality of life after middle age, brain-scanning and psychological studies have proved an increase in mental satisfaction among aging demographics, as well as identified internal mechanisms that allow the elderly to better cope with hardship or negative circumstances.  This research simply reveals that our elderly experience greater positivity and optimism, which may be related to the way the brain processes emotional contents.  Still not convinced aging is the thing for you?  Well, here are a few other things you can look forward to in the coming years: more awake time, the benefits of grandchildren and being grandparents, accumulative knowledge or wisdom, and surprisingly, a rewarding sex life.  Aging is indeed a hallmark of biology and albeit, a true reflection of the cultural and societal conventions of the industrialized world.  Notwithstanding great skepticism and cynicism, aging continues as a momentous procession of the human experience – a true privilege.  In the words of Robert Browning, “Grow old along with me!  The best is yet to be.”

-Elizabeth Cucnik

 

 

 

 

 

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