“Alas, that Spring should vanish with the Rose!
That Youth’s sweet-scented Manuscript should close!
The Nightingale that in the Branches sang,
Ah, whence, and whither flown again, who knows!”
Thus wrote Omar Khayyam in his Rubaiyat, glorifying the joys and delights experienced during youth. At no other time in history has this sentiment been perhaps more relevant than today! In every part of the world, youth, beauty and health are being considered synonymous and hence valued as precious commodities.
The word” youth” conjures up visions of wrinkle-free face, youthful physique, strong bones and healthy teeth of happy and cheerful young people who suck the marrow out of life and whose cup of joy is filled to the brim. Television commercials and advertisements in journals and newspapers focus our attention on youthful feminine charms as reflected in the beauty of long red fingernails and silken hair of the female of the species, or masculine strength as revealed in the muscular physique of athletes and sportsmen. In fact, every product in the world of cosmetics or soft drinks or sanitary ware, or transportation has an accent on youth and beauty with a distinct sexual slant that demands the viewer’s attention. No wonder that in our youth- oriented societies the word ‘aged’, compels us to think of unhappy and dependent old people withering away in nursing homes or hospitals. However in certain developed countries the majority of aged people in some close knit communities live with their loved ones and not in institutional care.
The population of old people has increased by leaps and bounds, thanks to the progressive advances in medical technology and health care services. Life expectancy has increased, and a higher proportion of people are reaching old age; because of biological factors, female still outlive their male counterparts. With every passing year it is expected that the number of old people alive at any given time, in any given society, would increase significantly thanks to more nutritious food and advances in medicine.
But ageing is something which commences very early in a person’s life. By the time a person reaches the late twenties, the process of ageing would have already begun and it continues until death. The physiological clocks which underlie the ageing process tick on relentlessly throughout our lives. It is true that medical science can prolong life. Modern cosmetics can give a new sheen to a young girl’s skin but nothing known to us can yet prolong ‘youth’ despite claims to the contrary made by some people from time to time without any scientific basis. When it does come, old age is a time to slow down, a time to come to terms with one’s own physical limitations and disabilities. Brittle bones, heart disease, diabetes and arthritis are some of the most common diseases that afflict the elderly day in and day out. There is a common feeling of frustration and despair among elder people knowing that there is nothing that they can do to stop the ageing process in the human system. The study of ageing—gerontology—is still a fledgling science and so the causes and process of ageing are not yet fully understood (gerontology is the study of the social, cultural, psychological, and biological aspects of ageing. It is distinguished from geriatrics, which is the branch of medicine that specializes in the treatment of existing disease in older adults).
But even while science searches for the secrets of why our bodies age, medical researchers are trying to tackle the disabilities of old age from another angle.
Scientists are hopeful of using their knowledge of the laws of molecular biology to predict illnesses and disabilities before they actually appear. The technique involves unlocking the mysteries of human DNA ‘molecules’, thereby enabling scientists to identify irregular genetic patterns which can indicate a particular potential weakness in a patient. We are all only too familiar with a 90-year-old gentleman who claims that he smokes cigarettes every day, eats fast and heavy food three times a week but is fighting fit and has no heart diseases at all. So also we are familiar with some other people who appear to be extremely healthy, perform exercise regularly but actually look miserable and drop dead prematurely (It is difficult to explain to the normal patient who visits a doctor’s clinic about the factors that might have caused death in the latter case).
The analysis of the DNA molecule is aimed at measuring the genetic component in the individual so that scientists can find out the factors that make people susceptible to particular diseases. Once doctors can obtain that information, they can do a simple test on an individual and assess that he is at risk of heart disease or osteoporosis, so there are certain things he should try to do to make it less likely to develop that problem. Probably the day is not far off when it would become commonplace for people to go along to their physician and get a routine blood test done; the analysis would look for certain factors that might reveal that the patient is at risk for a particular disease. This might start when an individual is quite young even in early childhood.
In the meantime Scientists realise that as things stand now all life has a finite span and each species has its own longevity whether the result of wear and tear and exhaustion of resources or whether genetically programmed, For human beings this would appear to be approximately 100 to 110 years. This means that even were it possible to prevent or cure every disease that carries people off, before the ravages of senescence do, virtually no one would live beyond a century or a bit more.
Though biomedical science has vastly increased mankind’s average life expectancy, the maximum has not changed in verifiable recorded history. In developed countries only one in ten thousand people, lives beyond the age of one hundred.
Whenever it has been possible to examine critically the claims of supposed record- breakers, they have not been substantiated.
However the longest verified human lifespan is that of Jeanne Calment France (1875–1997), who lived to age 122 years and 164 days. She received news media attention in 1985, after turning 110. Subsequent investigation found documentation for Calment’s age, beyond any reasonable question. The oldest living person in the world whose age has bee validated is 118-year-old Kane Tanaka, of Japan. The citizens of Japan live longer than those of any other country, with an average life expectancy of 82.5 for women and 76.2 for men.
Though the study of molecular biology is still in its infancy, scientists expect that within the next ten years it will be a part of everyday life. Doctors feel that health care service for the aged will increasingly focus on the economic and social value of keeping older people active in the community. The basic principle and policy of the provision of health services for the aged in future would be aimed at providing support service which enable the elderly persons to achieve and maintain the greatest possible degree of independence in the least restrictive environment. In order to meet the needs of the aged section of the community, services need to be provided which address the varied needs of this target group and all those members of their family who provide significant amounts of care. Scientists are optimistic that by the year 2030 home-based care and preventive medicine based on the principles of molecular biology will be the norm rather than the exception. Though the so-called elixir of youth might still be beyond our grasp, modern medical science now offers us, this side of the grave, the best chance yet of enjoying good health and happiness well past the days of one s youth, thanks to the triumphs of molecular biology