Many of the common sayings and beliefs about growing old have had to
be revised in the light of new information that has been developed by
medical science in the last twenty years. We used to say that a man IS as
old as his arteries. Now we realize that changes in the arteries may go on
without aging of all the rest of the body. A man is as old as his skin, his
adrenal glands and his nervous system, even more than his arteries. Aging
shows up most obviously in the skin and in the brain.
Old people suffer from nutritive deficiencies that result chiefly from
economic, psychological, or physical problems. Degenerative changes,
formerly accepted as routine, are now considered controllable to some
extent by means of improved nutrition and by the administration of
glandular substances; the latter are used particularly to prevent
degeneration of the sex glands. Premature loss of estrogen (the female sex
hormone) or testosterone (the male sex hormone ) can cause fine wrinkles,
loss of hair, and other obvious manifestations of aging. Experimental
studies indicate that treatment with hormones can somewhat delay
Changes go on in the tissue of the human body at varying rates. Some
require a long time and others occur rapidly. Hardening of the arteries is
a slow process and is therefore seen most frequently in the aged. Actually
the human being has a life cycle of about seventy years and barring
accident or other stresses will probably live that long. During his seventy
years the human being is subjected to a good deal of wear and tear. This
may include excesses of food, drink, or narcotic substances. The wear
and tear may include infections, bad weather, accidents while at work,
overwork, boredom, or emotional upsets. Even without excessive wear
and tear, however, the tissues gradually lose their ability for growth and
repair and we grow old. Pathologists talk about the atrophy of disuse. At
certain ages both women and men lose their ability to reproduce, which
is a function of youth and middle age.
Actually the blood vessels carry on longer than most other tissues of
the body. Operations are done on very old people and they recover with
blood supply flowing into the area that has been shut off by the operative
For the aging process doctors use the word involution. The loss of ability
to read small type as one grows older is associated with changes in the
tissues of the eye. As our tissues age they tend to recover less rapidly from
disease or injury. The aging heart beats with a little more trouble than does
the young heart. Modern medicine has learned to substitute for some of the
disappearances of tissues and their secretions. We give liver extract in
forms of anemia, insulin for diabetes, eye glasses for visual disturbances,
and canes or crutches for weakening muscles.
Disappearances of neurons or nerve cells in the nervous system come on
with age. This helps to make old people less agile than the young and less
capable to carry on hard work for a long time. The tremors of old age are
accredited to similar loss of neurons.
Old people do not observe as acutely as do the young. They do not
remember recent events. Eventually the loss of tissue from the aging
brain may reveal itself in apathy, irritability, or stolidity. Many old people
talk and talk and talk. This garrulousness may be accompanied by too great
a concern over little, unimportant things and less concern about essential
Doctors have learned that the accounts old people give of their symptoms,
the trials and tribulations, neglects and concerns of their families,
are not quite as dependable as were accounts by these same people given
when they were younger.
Actua1ly old age needs lots of sympathetic consideration from the young.
Read the ages at death of the people in your community. You will discover
great numbers over sixty-five, with only here and there one from fifteen to
fifty. The span of life has changed and we must learn to accommodate
ourselves to it.

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