The physical degenerative process of our existence is evident. As age increases, there is a host of phenomena that occur. The brain shrinks in size, the central nervous system reacts more slowly to external stimuli, and neurotransmitters decrease in number. Individuals get shorter and weight can decrease.
The first condition I will address is the very act of aging itself and not a particular disease, mental disorder, or other psychological dilemma. Not everyone will have some particular disorder that can be labeled, but all people will get older as time goes by. So, the very act of aging itself is the issue here. Old people are old. They are not young anymore. That, in itself is a unique situation. If we approach aging as the actual disease to be healed, then we just might be able to live longer, more contented, healthy lives.
There are several things one can do to fight the disease of aging. The literature advances three basic ideas that may explain why we age. The first is the cellular clock theory, which purports that each cell gradually loses its ability to divide at its previous rate. Also, the telomeres, which are at the tips of the chromosomes gradually become shorter over time and prevent rapid reproduction of cellular structure. It has been found that the injection of telomerase into the cell will assist the cell in maintaining rates of reproduction. So, I suppose one can find some way to get this telomerase into one’s body and the aging process can be slowed.
Another way we age is explained by the free-radical theory, which purports that when cells metabolize they release a waste product that is an unstable oxygen cell. These free radicals bounce off other structures within the cell and damage it. It has been found that a reduction in the intake of carbohydrates and other calories reduces the affect of these free radicals. There are also certain kinds of fruits, vegetables, minerals, and just a great deal of water can do much to reduce the number of free radicals in the body. So, I suppose one can find a way to reduce the number of free radical causing calories and increase one’s cellular life.
The third idea discussed by literature is the mitochondrial theory. The mitochondria are the energy producers within the structure of the cell and decay as time passes. The way to combat the decay of these mitochondria is to again, reduce the number of free radicals and supplement the cell with micronutrients.
A word about healthy lifestyle is important to fight the process of aging as a disease. Sleep when you need to, not when you are culturally or socially programmed to do so. Eat when you are hungry, eat every day, and eat balanced meals full of organic, life giving phytonutrients that can actually feed your cells. Drink good, clean water in copious amounts. Exercise until you know you have done some serious work and don’t overdo it. Bring to yourself lots of family, friends, and acquaintances who make you feel loved, accepted, and warm. Don’t let the circumstances of your life control you and cause unnecessary stress to make your hypothalamus tell your adrenals to overwork. Be at peace. The world is turning as it should.
Another cultural phenomenon that occurs in the western world is the discrimination that can occur with the elderly. They are perceived in this culture as being unnecessary and of no use. This is a social disease just as painful as any form of arthritis, diabetes, or heart disease that may attack an older person. We retire them at age 62 and say thank you very much, but we can handle it from here. They have forgotten more than younger people have ever known about a subject, but we turn them out to pasture. Granted many of them are ready to stop working so much and have fulfilled some of their destiny. But they have not completed their life yet.
According to Erikson, they still have the Integrity Vs Despair stage to process through. This stage is the time when they take an inventory of their life and decide if they have lived out their destiny with integrity or not. It is a dynamic decision making time. This stage of personality development will determine if the individual will live out the rest of their days with joy and contentment or spend those days in heartbreaking despair. They must not be simply cast aside. There is too much knowledge, too much experience, and too much love of life still in the elderly to allow them to be discriminated against.
One strategy that can be used in fighting discrimination against the elderly is to educate the public in different ways to include the elderly in family, cultural, and social events. Encouraging the young to converse with, interact with, and relate to the elderly at churches, social gatherings, retirement homes, and places of business can do much to increase awareness of elderly issues and needs.
I have found it very meaningful to go to various retirement homes and just spend time with people who would not otherwise have a social contact. The stories they can tell of times gone by are interesting and entertaining. A little time with them goes a long way to eradicate loneliness, despair, and bitterness. I have also seen the elderly called back to companies to be consultants and trainers of new employees. This is a profound way of saying to them that they are still needed and have something to offer.
In this culture, you and I live in an environment that labels age unfairly. If a young person forgets something important, it is because he is still learning. If a woman in her forties is forgetful, it is because she has so many things on her mind. But, if an elderly person cannot remember something, it is because of his/her age. This is a double standard and is wrong.
The best strategy I can think of to fight this is to say to you dear reader, the next time you look at an elderly person, don’t look at the wrinkles all over their body, or the hair that no longer has color, or the careful way they walk. Look at that person and peel back the attack of time. Imagine them forty years younger with dreams, destinies, and talents. Remember always that their life is honorable, their contributions have been many, and the respect due them is great.