‘You’re Looking Very Well’

It was of course that title that got me. Lewis Wolpert (aged 81 as I am) subtitles his book – ‘The Surprising Nature of Getting Old’. So I ordered the book from our library and am now reading it. The author is a developmental biologist and has set himself the aim of explaining ageing, with the help of his own and other specialist studies and statistics. His basic theme is similar to our own in these blogs – identifying and de-mystifying a process that can be a burden to us, but can also generate the fear that what is happening to us is peculiar to ourselves. Here are some facts.

Only 1 in 10 of those aged between 75 and 79 remain free of illnesses such as heart, eyes and bones….in the 20th century 30 years have been added on to our lives, an increase greater than in the previous 5,000 years…there are 10M people over the age of 65 and 3M over the age of 85 in the U.K….in an Austrian and German study which asked 21,000 people if they were happy, the majority who claimed to be were those over 74…’ageing is not a disease but a multi-factorial process that leads to the progressive loss of functions’…more than 50% of the U.

K. population over 65 show evidence of osteoarthritis…about 50% of the over 60’s have a fall each year….older people have an abnormal gait, evident in about a third of those over 65…skin healing can sometimes fail completely…about a quarter of men begin balding by 60 and greying commonly begins in the mid-30’s.

A Yale psychologist has found that those who viewed ageing as a positive experience lived an average of 7 years longer than others who didn’t,which is fine, but it’s when Wolpert gets on to memory that I start getting a bit uncomfortable. Mental abilities peak at 22 and begin to deteriorate 5 years later and yet apparently abilities based on accumulated knowledge increase until the age of 60.

There is normally a much less drastic decline in mental than physical activities, though the author says he still regularly plays single and doubles tennis. There is a chapter on forgetfulness which I am now reading, including dementia and Altzeimer’s, subjects I shrink from.

Wolpert tells the story of a distinguished but ageing TV presenter who went out to dinner on a Friday night. When he rang his hostess’s bell there was a delay, then she put her head out of an upper window and said hello. ‘Have I come on the wrong night’ he asked. ‘No’ she replied, ‘it was last Friday and you were here’.

…more from the book next time.