Myth of “old age”


In our society, different persons are marked as “old” when they reach different ages. Usually, this happens, when a person develops some health and memory problems. Variation of ages, when people are marked as “old” is huge. This could look as a realistic adaptation to events, but … there are some powerful social trends and stimuli reinforcing this designation. Escaping the group of people of “old age” is almost impossible. There is even a medical symptom - “old age”. This designation is not innocent - people of “old age” are consistently excluded from decision-making, even in cases solely related to them.

This looks like a trap - this should make one feel suspicious.


Impractical and Immoral Idea

    “Old age”, as a “normal stage of development of a living being”, is an old idea. Often, it was associated with experience, wisdom, and corresponding respect. “Old age”, as a “stage of gradual and irreversible degradation of biological functionality, manifesting in drastically reduced physical and mental abilities” is a relatively new idea, where “irreversible” part is the strange one. This idea persists in spite of numerous cases, where mental and physical decline was reversed through advances of medicine and broad adaptation of advanced medical methods in the society.

    “Irreversible degradation” is a highly impractical idea, because restoration of functionality of a person of advanced age, even just partial restoration, allows society to benefit from knowledge and experience of that person. The moral side of this idea is outright disastrous. Doctors function in an artificial part of the society, where highly moral behavior is observed and, most importantly, expected. The idea, even an unspoken one, that old people should not be vigorously treated creates an internal psychological conflict, which they could pacify only by talking themselves into believing that such treatment is not possible. Somewhere, deep in heart, they do not believe this, and this creates damaging internal conflict.

    The society pays too high a price for maintaining this idea of “irreversible degradation”.


The Myth

    How could this idea of “irreversible degradation” persist in the society for so long?

It cannot survive out in the open! It exists as a Myth in subconscious of the public, with myriad conscious interpretations, as follows:

·        It is hard to treat old people with numerous illnesses in advanced stage, hence it is “impossible”, otherwise how well meaning people would refuse to do so?

·        It is expensive to treat them; hence it is “impossible”.

·        There are no paths of treatment, which carry authorized approval; hence it is “impossible”.

    There is nothing wrong with ordinary Myths, they exist in open, and they have numerous interpretations used to enhance our thinking. This particular Myth is different, it is hidden and it is adjusting to the situation. It is hard to detect and analyze, and consequences of its existence are horrible.

    The idea of “irreversible degradation” prevents attempts of early medical intervention, prevents attempts to experiment with treatments and prevents attempts to study the phenomenon. As a result, minor treatable deviations of body functioning accumulate, become difficult to recognize or differentiate and this leads to an illusion of irreversible degradation of functioning.

The idea of “irreversible degradation” is a self-fulfilling “prophecy”. It is time to get rid of it.


Huge Price of maintaining the Myth

    The idea of “irreversible degradation” is entrenched in the society and creates a special social group – “old people”. In the case of illness, they are not treated from that illness, but provided some “maintenance” - reduction of severity of symptoms. The society pays huge price for this. In the case of epidemic, people belonging to this group, with weakened body defenses from untreated diseases, become “fire starters” and “fodder” of raging flame of spreading disease. In this group, the disease matures; this is where it hides, when it is attacked by the society; this is where it takes the vast majority of victims.

    The society pays a huge price for this Myth. It is time to get rid of it.


Aggressive Treatment of People of Advanced Age

    What should happen, when the society drops the Myth of “irreversible degradation” of every person’s health, and starts treating people of advanced age aggressively?

    First, the artificial social group of “old people” will gradually disappear with all its amplification of epidemics.

    Second, medicine will turn to aggressive treatment of people of advanced age and this will rapidly increase medical knowledge and experience of doctors.

Third, people will live longer, their life will be more productive, the share of the population dedicated to care for elderly will get smaller and the cost of such care will go down.  

Fourth, people of advanced age will stay in workforce longer, and the society will benefit from their years of experience.

People of advanced age are more inclined to seek compromise and peaceful solutions, because they know destructive consequences of intolerance and conflict. Their active participation in the life of the society should reduce intensity of social conflicts. This would be the fifth benefit from getting rid of an illusion.

Alexander Liss 3/25/2020