The Sunset Years

by Admin-Phmp

Text and Photo by Henrylito D. Tacio

“How we treat our elders is an indication of how we treat our most vulnerable,” said Senator Sonny Angara, the chairman of the Senate committee on local government, and ways and means.

He is the son of Senator Edgardo J. Angara, touted by many as the father of healthcare for authoring the Senior Citizens Act, among others. “Ours is a young population,” he stated, as research showed almost 60% of Filipinos are of working-age with their median age at roughly 24 years old.

“Though the Philippines is still considered relatively young,” the elder Angara wrote in a column published in Health and Lifestyle, “the projected doubling of our senior citizen population by 2025 underscores the urgent need to prepare for the anticipated high financial costs of elderly healthcare, reform our pension systems, and rethink our view of old-age work and retirement.”

Aging, according to the younger Angara, is a path all of us will take. In 2000, the National Statistics Office showed senior citizens comprise six percent or roughly 4.6 million of the total population. Ten years later, the figure increased to 6.5 million. In another decade, the number is expected to comprise 11.5 percent of the total population.

There’s this joke among Bisaya to never call the old folks tigulang (the local term for “old”), or they won’t bother to respond; so, instead address them as edaran (which means “matured”).

Yes, euphemism is the name of the game. Other terms that can be used include “young adults” or someone having “reached maturity.” And, please, abhor yourself from saying “almost old,” as what Washington Post once labeled those people.

Former American president Bill Clinton was politically correct when he calls those using bifocals and with gray hair as “junior-seniors.” In the Philippines, “senior citizens” is used to separate them from “younger generations.”

In 1978, the Associated Press first used the description “near-elderly,” according to William Safire of the famed The New York Times. This “is the fatalistic term, embraced by middle-aged demographers – those from 40 to 60 or so.”

“Growing old is mandatory,” Chili Davis, a Jamaican-American former baseball player, once said. “Growing up is optional.”

Indeed, no one can escape senescence – that’s how scientists call the process of aging. According to Marquette University professor Sandra Hunter, aging is rather simple: “Cell death… eventually leads to systems malfunctioning and whole-body death.”

Take the case of muscle fibers and nerves connected to them; they gradually die, leading to a loss of strength that starts at age 50 and continues steadily thereafter. 

“A deeper question for scientists is, why do the cells die?” asked Popular Science.

Scientists have come up with several theories, and most likely, a combination of them explains the aging process.

One theory talks of oxidative damage. “Normal cell processes release harmful molecules called oxygen free radicals. Substances in the body called antioxidants neutralize some of them, but a few free radicals escape unscathed and damage cells. Oxidative damage is linked to such diseases and conditions as heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s,” the science magazine explained.

Another theory focuses on cell death on genes, which limit how often the cells can replicate. Three American researchers won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2009. They were cited for their work linking the aging process to telomeres.

“Telomeres are clusters of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) that cap the chromosomes of complex organisms, protecting the rest of the genetic code during cell division,” the magazine pointed out. “As cells age, these caps grow smaller, exposing the DNA to breaks and mutations that can lead to cancer or cell death.”

Here’s another fascinating theory: “Certain genes might also control the life span of an entire organism. Research on worms shows that when scientists mutate genes related to the aging process, they can extend a worm’s life to four times its normal life span. If similar genes exist in humans and can be changed the same way, people could live, theoretically, to 300 years old.”

Some people think that because they are already old, they cannot achieve anything what younger people can do. But history is replete with stories of achievers who are very old, and yet they made impressive records.

Leonardo Da Vinci was 51 years old when he painted the celebrated Mona Lisa. Abraham Lincoln was 52 when he became president of the United States. Dr. Seuss was 54 when he wrote The Cat in the Hat. J.R.R Tolkien was 62 when the famous Lord of the Ring books came out.

Nelson Mandela was 76 when he became the president of South Africa. At 94, comedian George Burns performed at Proctor’s Theater in Schenectady, New York — sixty-three years after her first played there. At 95, choreographer Martha Graham prepared her dance troupe for their latest performance. 

Mystery writer Phyllis Whitney was 87 when she published her seventy-first book, The Singing Stone. Mary Baker Eddy was also 87 when she founded the Christian Science Monitor. When she was 82, Leslie Marchand published the final volume of his twelve-volume Byron’s Letters and Journals. At 81, leftist journalist I.F. Stone published The Trial of Socrates, which became a bestseller.

Whether you look at old age as an asset or a liability, it really doesn’t matter. “But of course, we don’t only want to prolong life, but maintain the quality of life as well,” says Dr. Rafael R. Castillo, a cardiologist, and a newspaper columnist. “For what good is it to reach a ripe old age, when most of the extension years are spent bedridden due to a disabling stroke, or with a limited activity due to a failing heart.”

Among the health problems most senior citizens experience is dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, gout, cataract, hypertension, osteoporosis, diabetes, urinary incontinence, constipation, stroke, and fractures.

If God gave Moses Ten Commandments, there is also such thing as Ten Commandments for the Elderly. I never knew about it until I read the article which appeared in Health and Home, a publication of the Seventh-Day Adventists. Allow me to share it with you:

1. Thou shalt preserve the body in the best possible condition – a brisk 30-minute walk every day is an excellent tonic.

2. Thou shalt continue to increase thy knowledge, to anticipate retaining thy memory, and to realize that temporary misplacement of stored facts occurs at any age. Thirty minutes of challenging mental stimulation is a daily necessity.

3. Thou shalt regularly eat nutritious meals of natural, unprocessed foods – eating slightly smaller portions and selecting foods with more care. Aim for a low-fat, low-salt, high-fiber, and chemical-, alcohol-, and caffeine-free diet.

4. Thou shalt remember that characteristics developed during earlier years are simply magnified with age. Therefore, become now the kind of person thou art desirous of being.

5. Thou shalt preserve a good self-image and a healthy level of self-esteem, realizing that there is no substitute for the wisdom of experience. Sharing the gift of accumulated knowledge is a priceless legacy to succeeding generations.

6. Thou shalt maintain a good sense of humor and develop the ability to laugh at thyself and the incongruities of life, realizing that a merry heart does good like a medicine – and stimulates the immune system. Cultivate a happy face; it is an instant facelift.

7. Thou shalt reminisce. Recall the good along with the bad because this contributes to successful adjustment in the present, realizing that optimism is the oil of old age.

8. Thou shalt be realistic in thy expectations and learn to accept help graciously when it is offered. Remember that many cultures have overemphasized independence at the expense of interdependence.

9. Thou shalt not isolate thyself from family and friends, but regularly initiate contact with people of all ages. Socialization not only stimulates the mind but helps to keep life in perspective; love and caring are the secrets of growing old gracefully.

10. Thou shalt continually give thanks for munificent blessings, realizing that a grateful heart nourishes the bones and helps to prevent discouragement, illness, and depression.

So, you think you’re old already, and you look at today’s young people as blessed. Age doesn’t matter, actually. Sheldon Allan Silverstein, an American poet and author of a children’s book, shared this story of a little boy and an old man. Their conversation goes this way:

The little boy said, “Sometimes, I drop my spoon.” To which the old man replied, “I do that, too.” The little boy whispered, “I wet my pants.” Again, the response of the old man: “I do that, too.” The little boy again said, “I often cry.” The old man nodded, “So do I.”

“But worst of all,” said the little boy, “it seems grown-ups don’t pay attention to me.” And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand. “I kno what you mean,” said the old man.

Are you old, past your prime, senior citizen, matured, or of a certain age? Don’t fret. Listen to the words of Justice Benjamin N. Cardozo: “Every age is modern to those who are living in it.” To which William Allen White adds: “I am not afraid of tomorrow, for I have seen yesterday and I love today.”

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