AGING IS NOT A DISEASE

Michèle DELAUNAY, former Minister, President of the Welcome TomorroW Scientific Committee. Extract from his blog 09 Sep 2019.

Is aging a disease? By definition, it is not. Aging means going into a status of senescence, that is a physiological process which starts from childhood. Therefore, it is the exact opposite of "pathological", which defines the state of illness. Let us recognize, with the same medical spirit, that aging goes in our minds – more than what we would like to admit - hand in hand with “ill” and diseases, leading up to question ourselves.

If we were to approach medical references, aging could be a sort of syndrome, that is a set of signs combined either in large or small numbers, which define a condition. Aging matches, in a more or less marked way,  with the feeling of fatigue or weakness, pain, poor balance or slow walking.

Currently, medicine still does not provide any answer to that. The question is, what about the simple common sense and the experience of the oldest? Well, as far as I am concerned, I do not feel and I do not see myself as being sick. Even if I have some discomforts, I refuse to be considered as part of the people who always complain. I always encourage myself to bearing in mind that disorders are the real cause of pains and disabilities, and that most of them can be easily treated and healed. I see poorly, so I got the cataract surgery. I cannot hear well, so I have a hearing aid, etc. Hence, I'm not really sick.

It’s not so easy when you get a chronic disease, modestly called in this way because you know that you won’t really get over it and that it will bother your for several years. Arthritis or diabetics are real diseases indeed, facilitated by old age, and when they manage to gain too much space,
they are less likely to be confused with old age.

Language plays tricks. In order not to end up with this chronic disease occupying all my seniority, the only thing I can do is "not to make it a disease!”. That is to say, to treat it with maximum contempt or distance, at least. I recently listened to “he fell old at once”. The text also says “get sick”, “get pregnant” and “fall in love”. Well, the only thing I can recommend is “not to fall”…

But we are not done with the disease. The compassionate ageism, - which is one of the worst, because it pretends to be considerate or attentive - , is based on the idea that both the old man or the old woman are necessarily sick and that they must be prevented from going out at night, they must be advised to walk slowly or not to tire, as well as to avoid copious dishes or alcohols. Briefly, to put themselves more or less on a diet.

In a nutshell, elderly people, let’s reject the concept that aging is an illness and do not pay due attention to that idea. If someone tells you with honeyed words that you do not look well, that you must save yourself, please look at them attentively and say: “Did you have a CT a while back?”. You will instantaneously see that they will get old. Sometimes, compassionate ageism deserves some little punishments…

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