In her article titled ‘The New Age of Aging,’ released on February 22/February 29, 2016 in the ‘Longevity’ issue of Time Magazine, Laura L. Carestansin of the Stanford Center on Longevity touched on several hurdles seniors confront in the twilight of their lives.
Americans now live into their eighties, nineties and beyond, she said. With the increase in longevity come medical and financial woes. For example, the number of Americans who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease could reach close to 14 million in 2050, and lots of seniors outlast their financial savings.
The article couldn’t have come at a more auspicious time. I found it by chance while in search of contents for a new nonprofit organization to help elders in my hometown of Akokwa, in Nigeria.
Preparation for a comfortable old age should start early in life, counseled Ms Carestansin. However, early preparation for an anticipated long life is new to the human species, an inclination she blamed on an evolutionary tilt anchored on our previous short lifespan going back over many thousands of years.
Wrong choices in food habits or lifestyle made at a young age contribute to discomfort in old age. Habits such as smoking and a sedentary lifestyle are the two primary culprits. Cigarette smoking leads to debilitating lung disease and lung cancer, while a sedentary lifestyle contributes to obesity, diabetes, and dementia.
If Americans could exercise more, save more and socialize more they could improve their opportunity for a better quality of life in their senior years. Strong social ties among older people help reduce stress, boost confidence, and have a positive impact on the aging process. Furthermore, she said, early life education improves both the quality and the length of life.
What surprised me is the commonality of problems between seniors in America and their counterparts in Akokwa.
Ms Carestansin reminisced about how a farming lifestyle used to keep Americans in good physical shape. Not any more, she regretted. The decrease in farm work is as noticeable in the United States as it is in my hometown, and probably in the whole of Nigeria.
Eating habits in Nigeria have degenerated to match the American proclivity for fast food. Fried chicken has replaced vegetables, and fried chips and potatoes have replaced fruits. Sudden death, until now rare in rural Nigeria, is on the rise.
Globalization and subsequent migration, the author pointed out, take relatives and friends away from seniors.
Nowhere else is the consequence of social dislocation more abrupt and costly than in underdeveloped countries. Gone are the days when old African men and women could expect their children to provide the social security nets their parents once envisioned.
Anselm Anyoha MD