The ‘ OLD ‘

It’s a traditional way of saying ‘hello’ : ‘how are you?’ people say. When they may know a bit about your medical history, there is a hint of special sympathy, as if they see there is unlikely to be an entirely positive response. They recognise that with age there are problems. I try very hard not to trot out any qualifications, my aches and pains, and have nearly cured myself of using the foolish phrase ‘I don’t approve of old age’. But’Old’is never far from the news these days. The word characterises a section of humanity which is distinct from everyone else, and can often be treated differently, in a cavalier or a patronising way. There are a whole host of social problems which stem from the community of age. Coincidently no doubt.

The Guardian seems to have had an ‘old’ agenda this week. The ‘old’ headline featured on Tuesday was about the development of a blood test by British scientists that may help to detect which people with failing memory will go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

Despite the fact that we are all living longer, there is currently no cure for the condition, or for the dementia that can precede it.The hope is that this research may contribute to the diiscovery of a cure. Scientists have identified ten proteins whose presence could predict with a reasonable degree of accuracy (less than 90 percent) whether people with mild cognitive impairment might develop Alzheimer’s within a year. Accuracy will need to be improved before it could be a useful diagnostic test, says the Alzheimer’s Society head of research who otherwise welcome these developments.

In the same edition, there was a flag waving column from George Monbiot in which he contemplated the possibility of people living almost for ever in a world ruled by an elite of rich old people.

The next day there was a shoal of angry letters, one of which was from eighteen – and here was a new word for me – biogerontologists, who were attending the 64th. annual scientific meeting of the British Society for Research on Ageing. They describe ageing as a global problem, a social blight that can ruin the quality of life of both the rich and the poor. They believe that no one deserves’ a wretched old age’. No one could diasgree with that.

Meanwhile the ‘old’ continue to cope with their failing powers as patiently as they can, often resigned to a situation they can do little to change. But, as we rightly claim our place in the many layered society we all belong to, to be described by those research scientists as a ‘social blight’is more than enough to bear.