AGING AND THE FUTURE OF THE HUMAN BEING* M.S. GORE The demographic...
AGING AND THE FUTURE OF THE HUMAN BEING*
The demographic trend is that more and more people will live to older ages. An extended life span makes demands
not only on the elderly individual and the medical profession, but also on the society, of which the two are a part. The
society must be a caring one, one which promotes the physical, social and economic autonomy of the individual.
Dr. M.S. Gore was Director of Tata Institute of Social Sciences till 1982, Vice-Chancellor of Bombay University till
1986 and currently, National Fellow, Indian Council of Social Science Research, New Delhi.
From the demographic point of view, one striking fact of the twentieth century has been the
world-wide growth of elderly populations. As David Macfadyen (1990:V) of the World Health
Organization puts it, "Every month, the net balance of the world population aged 55 years or over
increases by 1.2 million persons". What is more, "More than 80 per cent of the monthly increase, a
gain of nearly one million persons, occurs in developing countries". This is a consequence of the
generally improved standards of public health even in developing countries, the improved standards
of public health in developed countries, and the consequent falls in infant mortality at one end and
postponement of adult mortality at the other. For the world as a whole, life expectancy at birth has
increased from less than 50 years in 1950-55 to over 60 years in 1991. It is expected to approach 70
years by the year 2000. There is a difference of approximately 10 years in life expectancy between
populations of the more developed and less developed regions (Siegel, 1982).
In the developing world, the higher expectancy of life at birth has been largely a consequence of
relative lowering of infant mortality through public health measures of improved sanitation, protected
water supply, immunisation campaigns and a consequent control of diseases in epidemic form.
Improved nutrition — qualitatively as well as quantitatively — seems to be the next important step
needed to prevent morbidity and to achieve improved positive health. Improved clinical medicine
has, probably, played a greater role in the urban areas and in the developed world, especially in the
management of illness and in coping with crisis situations. It appears that clinical medicine will have
an increasingly important role to play in reducing mortality and adding years towards the end of the
But even at this end, the life-style of the individual, his/her avoidance of known risk factors associated
with coronary disease, hypertension and cancer will play an important role in reducing the risks of
morbidity and mortality.
In the developing countries, where birth rates still continue to be high while the death rates have fallen,
the age structure of the populations has not changed materially and the elderly populations still
constitute only around 6 to 8 per cent of the total and the below 15 year populations, as high as 35 to
40 per cent of the total. In the developed countries the fertility levels have declined and the below 15
year populations are around 12 to 15 percent. In some cases the elderly are over 20 per cent of the
country's population, as for example, in Sweden. The net dependency ratio, made up of the young
plus the elderly segments of the population in the developed and the developing countries is probably
* Text of talk prepared for The 4th Asia/Oceania Regional Congress on Gerontology, October-November, 1991.
Aging of the Human Being
not very different in 1990, though in 1960 and 1980 the total dependent population was a higher
percentage in the developing countries than in the developed countries (Siegel, 1982 : 10). But the
age-structure of the two sets of countries is very different. The developed countries have older
populations with more adult and aged individuals in the population whereas, the developing countries
have younger populations with more young and younger individuals in the population.
The present trends are that more and more people will live to older ages. Even now in the developing
countries, once a child has survived to the age of 5, his/her life expectancy increases appreciably and
the lowering of the below-five-mortality rate is considered the best indicator of development of a
country. Is there a natural limit to the expansion of the human life span? Some scientists think that
there may be a natural genetic limit to the expansion of the average span of human life, say, upto 85
years; but, there is no conclusive proof that this is so. In fact, other scientists believe that this span may
be expandable to as much as 115 years. The only point of agreement seems to be that human beings
cannot attain a state of immortality (Kane, 1990: 30-49).
One presumes that the differentials between the developed and the developing countries will
continue for some years, though it is expected that, at some point the differences in the demographic
patterns in the developed and the developing countries will be narrower than at present.
Apart from the expansion of the total span of human life, there seems to be a fair possibility that the
span of 'active' years for the elderly can also be extended. We know that there is an appreciable
difference between the average life expectancy at birth in the developed and the developing
countries: one expects this is parallelled by a difference in the average 'active' life available to
individuals beyond the age of, say, 60 years. The point for the onset of heightened morbidity,
disability and/or impairment beyond the formal onset of chronological 'old' age is critically important
for the elderly and for society. The longer this period, the more 'desirable' the prolongation of life, both
for the individual and for society.
The extension of the average life span of human beings should be a matter of gratification because,
men in all cultures have aspired to live long — maybe to the biblical age of three score and ten or to
the Hindu desired norm of living to see a hundred autumns. Will this longer life be in fact an enjoyable
experience? One expects that this would depend in good measure on their continuing to be in a state
of good health, possessed/assured of a measure of economic security and their continuing to be
involved in meaningful social and psychological relationships. The fulfilment of these conditions
cannot be taken for granted and it calls for conscious effort on the part of the elderly and the creation
of a supportive environment in the society, of which they are a part. The future of the human being in
the context of an extended life span depends on how (s)he expects to fill this additional slot of time.
The World Health Organization defines health as a complex state of physical, mental and social
well-being. Medical opinion is increasingly veering to the view that there is no necessitous relationship
between chronological aging and decline in physical or mental abilities of an individual. Much of what
was once considered as the inevitable decline of aging is now seen as capable of being prevented,
checked and even remedied. It is difficult to identify diseases which are specifically 'age related' as
different from life-style related or environment and contagion related. Disabilities normally associated
with aging may in fact be related to disease.
This does not mean that the elderly can look forward to lead a life totally free of disease or disability,
but it does mean that what needs to be treated is disease and not aging, and that, because a person
212 M.S. Gore
is aged, one need not expect him/her to be 'naturally' predisposed to disease or less capable of
benefitting from appropriate treatment. Further, it also means that if the aging individual takes
appropriate care in the form of nutrition, exercise and avoidance of known risks, (s)he can expect to
reduce morbidity and to cope with it better, than if (s)he neglected himself/herself and began to
accept decreased ability and decreased resistance to disease as inevitable. Grimely Evans
(1990:50-68) makes an important point when he says that a poor prognosis on the part of the doctor
often becomes a self fulfilling prophesy. Because, if the elderly are expected to do badly, they are
likely to do badly since they will tend to be given poor care. One may add that, a poor prognosis may
also weaken the will of the elderly to fight and overcome morbidity.
Coping with problems of health of the elderly requires a change of attitude both on the part of the
elderly individual as also his doctor. Neither must regard morbidity to be 'natural' or something to be
borne patiently by the elderly with the help of alleviatory or pain management drugs. But such a
change in attitude will not come about or become evident in old age unless it has been a part of the
attitude to health and disease at earlier periods of life. It calls not only for a generally positive attitude of
mind, but also for discipline and a resolve to inculcate a life-style conducive to health at earlier stages
of life, when the spectre of disease and death are only distant possibilities. It also means the negation
of a fatalistic attitude which would regard disease as god-ordained or as a retribution for unknown,
earlier, moral or religious transgressions. Morbidity and disease may well be retributions, but usually
only for known, avoidable risk-embracing behaviour.
An extended life span makes demands not only on the elderly individual and the medical profession,
but also on the society, of which the two are a part. This society must be a caring
society and one
which promotes the physical, social and economic autonomy of the individual.
It is as a representative of such a society that the medical profession first helps in preventing morbidity
through development of appropriate public health and preventive medical practices and later, where
morbidity occurs, by focusing on clinical care to cure the disease, to reduce disability or impairment,
and to restore the individual to a state of maximum functioning. But, beyond the provision of medical
help for physical or psychological illness, the society must adopt policies and programmes which
promote the social and economic well-being of the individual. In fact, physical and psychological
well-being and social and economic well-being are mutually interactive and one cannot be ensured
without the other. A physically ill person who is exposed to the risk of psychological depression is
likely to suffer in familial and social status and to find his illness a drag on his own or family's economic
resources. Also, low income or poverty is likely to deprive a person of adequate nutrition and
medication, and worsen the ills of age in a physical sense.
An extended life span is, today, a fact to which human societies have to respond. It has resulted from
advances in health sciences which help to reduce morbidity and postpone mortality. It has also
resulted from greater productivity which makes higher standards of nutrition, better clothing, and
better public health possible, at least, in some countries of the world and in some sections of the
populations of all countries. But now it calls for other adjustments and creative responses at the level
of the individual and society.
At the level of the individual, the question is: What does he do with the additional years? If he has been
self-employed and continues to be physically able, he can continue to practice his occupation —
shop-keeper, farmer or professional. This will give him a continued source of income, provide work to
occupy his time and assure him of his status in society. But if he is not self-employed, then, he is faced
Aging of the Human Being
with a situation where the formal employment structure declares him to be a superannuated person,
who must leave his employment at the age of 55 to 60 or 65. In fact these varying ages of retirement
have been a response to the fact of an extended life span, but these extensions are not available in all
types of occupations. Jobs which require greater physical exertion have earlier ages of retirement.
Also, in countries where the population is still young, i.e.,
where persons below the age of 14 are still
30 to 40 per cent of the total population, and those above 60 are still less than 10 per cent, there is a
pressure from the young aspirants to gain an entry into the job market and governments are under
pressure not to raise the age of superannuation. In a few states in India, the government lowered the
retirement age from 58 years to 55 years.
Extended life spans will make this issue of the age of retirement critical in the developing world where
the age structure of the population is still young and, yet, where the proportion of those who live
beyond the age of superannuation and who are still physically active, is increasing. The age of
retirement cannot be extended, but there is a growing number of individuals who are suddenly faced
with the prospect of having nothing to do. After a short period of leisure and relaxation, the urban,
middle-class retiree faces this problem of what to do, where to spend his 'day'. In homes with limited
accommodation an adult male with nothing to do is very much in the way and disturbs the work
schedule and the tenor of life of the rest of the household, made up primarily of women and children.
Comparatively speaking, an elderly female does not face this problem of how to occupy her time. She
may continue in her housewife role for a longer period, until she is physically infirm, or in a
joint-household, the daughter-in-law tactfully nudges her out of it. But then there is the option of her
spending more time with the grandchildren. At any rate, a woman who has been a housewife has
developed ways of occupying herself during periods of 'inactivity'. But the male is normally less
equipped to cope with it.
If the problem of the idle, elderly male is not a pressing one in developing countries it is because most
of the employment is still in the unorganised sector or in agriculture, where there is no fixed age of
retirement, and where, lower levels of productivity and/or under-employment are still acceptable.
But retirement or loss of employment is not only a problem of loss of something to do, it is also a
problem of reduced or no income. How does the retiree meet his financial needs? If he is from the
middle class he may have some savings, a life insurance policy, a provident fund; he may receive a
gratuity and, if he was a government servant, he may be eligible for a life pension. These sources
usually yield incomes lower than the monthly salary, and are, in any case, not adequate to meet
increases in cost of living resulting from inflation and from increased expenses on medicines, doctor's
fees or hospitalisation. To a greater or lesser degree, the retired individual becomes dependent on the
younger generation — first for his life's needs and then for physical care. The extent of dependence
and the period of such dependence varies from individual to individual. But, generally, with extended
life expectancy, the period has tended to increase. Also, with increasing shift of employment from
unorganised to the organised sector, with greater urbanisation and inter-generational migration, the
family tends to be a less easily available and a less secure source of support for the elderly.
This is where the need for a better planned social response to the needs of the elderly becomes
important. It calls for various measures of social insurance, social security and public assistance to
ensure income maintenance, health services and social support. The presently developing societies
have generally smaller percentages of the elderly to support, their family support systems are
relatively in better shape to care for the aged, but their resources are meagre and the elderly
dependents are, in a way, competing with the young dependents for the available meagre resources,
214 M.S. Gore
whether of the family or of the State. The developed societies have more resources, their young
dependents are smaller than the elderly dependents, but the elderly dependents probably consume
proportionately more of the social and economic resources than the corresponding young
dependents, and they have little to offer the family or society in the future. Besides, the developed
societies also seem to face the prospect of a decreasing percentage of the adult, the working, and the
wealth producing age-group in the population. One response to this situation would be to extend the
age of retirement, so that, persons beyond the age of 60 or 65 continue to be economically
productive. Further, it is possible that automation may reduce the number and proportion of people
that need to work at any given time to be able to support a dependent population of young plus
In the social-psychological sphere, the problems are complicated for the elderly by the changing
family relationships in which the acceptance of support and services from one's own children seems
less and less right even to the elderly. This is not merely a question of accepting the legitimacy of the
economic burden of supporting one's parents. A question of attitudes is involved. Because, even
though the legitimacy of supporting one's children is more willingly accepted, increasingly fewer
women are willing to set aside years of their life for pregnancy, child birth and child rearing. The
fertility rates have fallen because young couples do not or cannot spare the time for child rearing; they
are preoccupied with the personal and the present, not overtly worried about the past or the future.
Individuals rarely act in terms of what may be in the interest of society in the long term. The modern,
adult individual is probably no more
selfish than individuals in past ages or
in traditional societies, but
(s)he is in all likelihood more self-preoccupied. (S)He thinks of the larger society in the abstract and is
responsive to social and world causes, but his/her immediate social world of close relationships is
narrower and (s)he does not welcome close personal involvements stretching over long periods of
time. This is likely to be true not only of those who are young today, but also of their parents who are in
their sixties or seventies. This accentuates, in a psychological sense, the problems of a longer life
span. Just as there is the problem of the loss of a work role and the loss of economic security, there is
the problem of atrophy of meaningful relationships — relationships where exchanges can take place
without a sense of obliging or being obliged, with an assured sense of continuity in time.
In most societies of south and east Asia where agriculture was the main occupation and laws of
heredity strengthened the father-son ties, filial obligations were routinely accepted and the aged
parents had a sense of living in their own homes, with the grown up sons accepting a subordinate
status in the family status hierarchy. Usually, the active years of the father faded out as the mature,
active years of the son or sons unfolded. The father maintained a formal position as head, but the
eldest son assumed increasing authority. Extension of the life span and the active years will raise new
questions of relationships and authority in such households.
In the urban areas with occupational change from father to son, and with the involvement of both in
the formal, monetised economy, there is no common property base for reinforcing the filial tie and
obligation. The houses are small, the new found sense of social privacy makes the house seem even
smaller. Will the institution of the family be able to contain three generation households and meet the
care and support needs of the elderly?
In the West, for a time, institutionalisation of the elderly dependents was seen as a solution. Nursing
and medical care, it was thought, could be more adequately provided in this setting. That still holds
true for the non-ambient or physically disabled elderly. But, generally, the trend has changed and
increasingly efforts are made to help the elderly to live in the community with state income support
Aging of the Human Being
and domiciliary health services. Will the elderly in the developing societies go through the same
sequence of care or will these societies shore up family and community support systems without
having to go through the institutionalisation phase? This would call for a policy of financial subsidy and
special housing design to enable the adult children to take care of the elderly parents. The policy
followed by a few state governments in India requiring the elderly to show themselves as poor and
without children to support them before they qualify for state support, Is self-defeating, because a
really 'poor' elderly person can hardly sustain himself on the paltry state pension.
In India the law (Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code) requires every person, having sufficient
means, to maintain his/her parents if the latter is unable to support himself/herself. But apart from the
law, the responsibility of the son for the support and care of his parents has been emphasised by
cultural tradition and social custom. In most cases, sons accept this responsibility as a matter of
course — willingly or at times complainingly. Tradition had exempted the daughter from this
responsibility, except in rare cases.
In Western societies, where the state provides some form of financial support, the caring role seems
often to be taken by the daughter than by the son or son's wife. Studies done among working class
families in London suggested that daughters, on marrying, often preferred to live within a street or two
of an aging mother or father. Even where the elderly live alone or in institutions, the maintenance of
links with relatives has been found valuable for their health and adjustment to life in an institution.
It seems important to identify 'caring' as a distinct function, different from 'providing'. Increasingly,
where elderly individuals have no resources of their own, the function of 'providing' material support
tends to be assumed by the State in the developed countries, but the 'caring' function which requires
individuation of the elderly person and meeting his/her emotional needs cannot be effectively met by
a formal agency. Mid-day clubs, home help, meals on wheels are all necessary services and
volunteers often provide them conscientiously, but they cannot meet the legitimate dependency
needs of the elderly. With advancing years and growing helplessness, the need increases for
someone who will listen to your grumblings and tolerate occasional cussedness and still keep the
channels of care and communication functioning. In its absence the institutionalized elderly may
adopt a conforming behaviour pattern and become easy to manage, but he will gradually lose his
One of the needs of later old age, the period after cessation of economic, occupational activity, is to
find a meaningful social role. This is not a new problem. It exists even at stages and in societies where
the expectancy of life is low, because there is usually a gap between the cessation of economic
activity of the individual associated with advanced age and the death of a person. How does one fill
his/her time during this period of enforced inactivity? The traditional three generation family in some
cultures recognised the role of an elder individual as the head of the family and the decision maker,
albeit, often in a formal sense. The important thing was that the elderly individual — male or female —
had a socially recognised role.
In Indian philosophy there is also the concept of the third stage of life — vanaprastha —
person voluntarily withdraws from the concerns of daily life and assumes the role of an 'elder' in the
larger kingroup and in the village community. By this age the individual was expected to try to attain
an equanimity of mind and be able to look at life's issues dispassionately and give 'sage' advice
where it was sought. The major preoccupation at this stage of life was to seek the attainment of the
culturally recognised state of a mind at peace with itself. It is possible that other cultures will look upon
216 M.S. Gore
this goal as characteristic of a 'passivity' — what Schweitzer considered the Nay-saying proclivity of
the Hindu mind. But the goal of equanimity of mind prescribed for the elderly individual had a social
context and function. It also fitted in well with the religio-philosophical goal of withdrawal from worldly
pre-occupations and dedication to other-worldly, spiritual goals.
The modern mind finds it difficult to accept this goal both because of its generally activist orientation
as also because science and reason have shaken the foundations of transcendental goals and
philosophies. But that fact has not reduced the significance of the question: What for life? or its
variant, what for longevity? The expanded life span with an increasing number of 'active' years for the
elderly has made this question all the more relevant.
It is true that most of us live and wish to continue to live, even struggle to live, from year to year
because that is our nature in common with every life species. We do not always live for a purpose,
and mostly, our purposes are proximate e.g.,
earning a livelihood, supporting a family, educating our
children, helping them settle in life. Some of us may have occupational and professional goals or
ambitions of making a distinctive contribution in our fields, may be, of making a name. But for most
persons, occupational goals cease to be meaningful at various stages between 55 and 70 years of
chronological age. As the average life span extends to 80 or 90, new roles, new activities, new
socially recognised 'purposes' will have to be identified to suit individual abilities and inclinations. In
their absence, the mind will be dulled or will be haunted by restlessness.
One way in which we try to evade this challenge of extended old age is by advising the elderly to do
nothing but relax and enjoy. This is what we do with young children as well, when they tend to
interfere with whatever we may be doing. We put them in a pen and surround them with toys. We do
something similar by providing the elders with a television set, a cable T.V. facility or a games room
facility. There is nothing wrong with either set of activities if the children or the elderly are themselves
motivated to play or relax. But the less an elderly person uses his mind or his limbs, the more is he
likely to lose the facility in using them. Involvement in life, learning new skills and practising them is
important for the elderly. The capacity of the elderly will eventually decline, but the longer the decline
is postponed, the longer will the elderly individual be able to live a self-reliant life. Hopefully, it will also
be a more meaningful life.
From this point of view, it would be best if the elderly were themselves to emerge as an identifiable
interest group and decide what they would like to do for themselves, what they can do for the
community and what they expect from it to enable them to give meaning to their added years.
In the Don Juan sequence of the play Man and Superman,
Bernard Shaw presents the dual
possibilities of his concept of heaven and hell. In his view, the two are only metaphorically separated.
Hell is full of pleasurable pre-occupations and heaven is painted as peopled by dull and serious
people. With a typically Shavian twist, Shaw shows Don Juan to be bored with the pleasures of hell
and in search of the contemplative solitude of heaven, whereas the erstwhile upright and chivalrous
knight, father of one of Don Juan's loves — Ana — is bored with heaven and makes frequent visits to
the more lively vicissitudes of hell. What has caused the change is the prospect of a life of eternity, the
freedom of their ethereal bodies from the urges of hunger and sex, and the impossibility as well as the
needlessness of their having to live up to other people's expectations for an eternity. Hypocrisy is
difficult to sustain except over finite periods. Don Juan was not a hypocrite in life and his love of
pleasure was satiated.
Aging of the Human Being
The additional years of the elderly on earth will not quite add up to an eternity nor will the elderly be
free of their aging earthly bodies, but a relative freedom from occupational compulsions and social
obligations could still help them find creativity in things they had wanted to do, but could not do in their
active years. Yet, they would need a socially and psychologically supportive environment and
enough economic support for adequate nutrition, medical care and housing.
It would seem that the future of the human being depends on medical science in so far as it relates to
physical health and longevity, but his/her happiness depends upon the readiness and the ability of
the individual to make continuing adjustments to new social situations, since a long span of life would
inevitably mean his being witness to more social changes, changes not only in the individual's
immediate family but in the ways of life of the larger society. Will the elderly individual with a still
expanding life span be able to make these adjustments in his/her ideas of right and wrong, of
appropriate behaviour, of what (s)he should expect of others and of what is expected of him.
An important question arises here. Will the human being who is willing, in fact, pleading for medical
•science to do something to ensure his/her bodily health and to add years to his/her life span be willing
to let medicine do something to his/her psyche? Would (s)he be willing to have his/her mind
strengthened — innured(?) — against unpleasant experiences? Would (s)he be willing to have his/her
temperament made more flexible, more pliable? The question is not far-fetched. We are already living
in a world where medicines can serve as mood-changers. Would we accept personality changers?
We speak seriously of the advances in genetic engineering. Would we accept with equal enthusiasm,
human genetic engineering?
In much of our discussion of the progress of medicine, we speak of what medicine is doing for
mankind, we do not ask or think of what medicine may be doing to mankind. When we think of the
progress in medical science we assume that when our bodies are subjected to medicinal and surgical
interventions our identity as persons is not affected. We think we are making the decision as to what
will be done to our body. When it comes to medicines of the mind we lose that certainty. Will the
person who has been subjected to mood changers or, in course of time, trait changers, be still the
These questions are generally important and not specific to a consideration of the problems of aging.
Their special relevance here arises because of a tendency, not too rare, of treating the elderly as
objects for whom or to whom something has to be done. This violates the basic value of the
autonomy of the individual.
The prospect of the expansion of the human life span will seem less attractive unless it ensures both
extended physical well-being and continuance of the sense of psychic integrity and autonomy of the
individual. Rightly or wrongly, we attach great significance to the notion of freedom of will. Had it not
been so, we need not have been frightened of Aldous Huxley's scenario of the Brave New World.
Somehow we do not like to consider ourselves to have been created or manipulated into being an
alpha, beta, gamma,
With human genetic engineering there is always this possibility of
someone making these decisions of who will live how long and to what purpose. With mood
changers there is the possibility of elderly persons living an extended life span of mindless pleasure.
We do not like either of these possibilities.
We like to believe that despite limitations, we as human beings are gaining greater control over our
lives. We do not like decisions regarding our individual lives to be made by others. We do not like the
218 M.S. Gore
prospect of our area of choice being reduced. We do not like the scenario of human beings living a
One cannot really speak about the future of the human being except in terms of speculative
philosophy. On the other hand, one can make relatively plausible statements about the implications
of an aging population at the level of the society and the implications of aging in an aging society at
the level of the individual. This is what I have attempted.
Recapitulating the main points, it is possible to say that, with the decline in mortality rates, nearly all
societies in the world are going to experience an increase in the proportion of the elderly in their
respective populations. For some time, in the developing societies this may not show itself in a higher
proportion of the elderly dependents and a decrease in the proportion of young dependents, but by
the end of the next 20 to 30 years, this aging of the population may become apparent in most
countries. This may mean a net increase in the proportion of dependents — young plus old — in
relation to the working population.
The reduced rate of addition to the labour force will initially not cause concern because it will be
compensated by a reduced demand for labour as a consequence of technological development and
labour-saving devices. It may also mean an extended work span for the individual who is well past
his/her 'adult' stage. This might also help reduce the dependency of the elders on social resources —
whether institutional or familial — by a few years. Also, with fewer children to bring up, the elderly
individuals may have somewhat more personal savings to fall back upon in a situation of high fertility.
Despite the compensatory changes resulting in improved health and longer work life spans, it is still
uncertain whether the net period of elderly morbidity — the period between loss of meaningful work
and social participation and death — will be substantially reduced. The hope is that it will be. But until
then, the proportion of the helpless and dependent elderly will call for more and newer social
innovations beyond the institutionalization phase, to 'provide' and to 'care' for the elderly.
The familial support pattern may change, but it seems unlikely that it will ever become unnecessary or
can be completely replaced by services in the larger society. At the same time, it is likely that
dependence of the elderly will partly be transferred from the younger members of the individual family
to the younger cohorts in the country's population as a whole (Ryder, 1988).
The implications of aging at the level of the individual can also be anticipated with some measure of
clarity. The increased period of health and activity will challenge individuals to find and continue in
work roles and in other meaningful social roles and relationships. The link between health and
continuing social involvement will be found to be mutually supportive. The longer one continues to
work and is socially involved, the longer may be the span of life in general and the consciousness of
There will still be periods of decreasing physical ability and dependence. Just as the individual will be
challenged to discover meaningful roles during the extended active period of aging, he will need to
discover 'this-worldly' or 'other-worldly' philosophical sources of sustenance which will minimise
self-pity and pre-occupation with morbidity. On this ability of the elderly individual to live creatively,
with his cerebral abilities intact, will depend the worthwhileness of adding years to the life of the
Aging of the Human Being 219
Many issues which are just beginning to emerge — the morality of keeping individuals alive on a
medical support system, the moral implications of euthanesia, the remote and yet not totally unlikely
possibility of society's deciding upon an 'optimum' life span for individuals — will occupy centre stage
and will inevitably raise new debates on older issues, such as the meaning and purpose of life.
Earlier, these issues arose in response to suffering born of paucity of resources: they can also arise in
the midst of plenty.
Evans, J. Grimely
"How are the Elderly Different" in Robert L. Kane et al.,
the Health of Older People,
Oxford : WHO and Oxford University Press.
Kane, Robert L. et. al.,
"Compression of Morbidity: Issues and Irrelevancies" in Robert L.
Kane, et al.
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