Ageing is not a Disease

Ageing is not a Disease

Ageing is not a disease but really a harvest to reap. Scientists and doctors are working in establishing that ageing is a medical disease with potential treatment. I would like to bring the concept to you that despite this body of scientific work, ageing is not a medical condition or an end to our productivity, creativity and contribution to the society, but a harvest to reap.

Ageing is a normal evolutionary process started over 300 millions years ago. A baby is born and will grow or age to an, adult and older person. It is present in all forms of life, cellular, vegetal, animal and human. The process cannot be altered although I will discuss how us, the human species, is trying to alter that course.

Ageing can be classified as natural, unnatural and acquired.
Natural ageing is what I called the normal evolution without interference or manipulation of the ageing process. Medical treatment can affect ageing. Unnatural ageing is when one is born with an anomaly, a congenital disease such as heart, kidney, brain, diabetes type I and so on. Unnatural ageing is also developing an auto-immune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis and many other. Acquired ageing comes from life style. Obesity, smoking, diet, atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries, diabetes type 2, lack of or no exercise. As an example, having open heart surgery after having had a heart attack and stent implantation 8 years ago and still not exercising and overweight is an acquired disease, and not related to natural ageing per se as something could have been done to alter.

Cancer is a special entity as it can cross the 3 groups.

Therefore, we can look at the process of ageing as a spectrum of possibility, some we can control, some we have little or none.

In June 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) released the 11th edition of its International Classification of Diseases, what we call ICD-11 , used by the medical profession. WHO has officially added ageing as a medical diagnosis, code MG2A-R54. This means that ageing is now recognized as a medical disease. A new generation of doctors and researchers in Gerontology come with the belief that ageing is a disease. Professionals in this field typically study and find ways to treat physical, mental, emotional, and social problems. This new classification in ICD-11 helps greatly the opportunities to increase funding for the research and the development of new treatments and efficient drugs against ageing.

Medicalizing Ageing: a disease to a cure?

With ageing, a host of problems may develop. Ageing is not the failure of your organs but just a process such as your tissue losses elasticity, your muscle mass decreases although there are plenty of study indicating that an older person can maintain muscle mass, you may gain some weight, the articulations are starting to hurt a little with strenuous exercise, but it does not mean to stop exercising. Your glucose and your cholesterol may be up a little, and your blood pressure is on the rise. It is ageing but you are not sick.

Needing heart bypass surgery, hip or knee replacement, having a stroke, lung cancer from smoking, obesity related issues (64% of population in Canada) , diabetes in 8% , are all part of organs or systems failures that are accentuated by ageing but not caused specifically by ageing.

Although while creating a diagnosis of old age may draw funding for research it creates a bigger issue by medicalizing a process that is natural to our life cycle. I believe that medicalizing ageing is counterproductive to the well-being of ageing.

Rejuvenation Biotechnology: New Field

Cosmetics, alternative therapies, supplements such as prebiotics, probiotics and symbiotics

The basis for the medical approach known as Rejuvenation Biotechnology, is a multidisciplinary field that aims to prevent and treat age-related diseases by targeting the aging processes directly. Targeting basic processes of biological aging and inventing new interventions to delay the onset or progression of aging is currently well funded by private research companies. Rejuvenation Biotechnology presents a whole new field that aims directly at the fear people have of becoming old and suffering. The fight against aging is already a global market worth billions. Vitamins, prebiotics, probiotics and soon symbiotics supplements, alternative therapies, cosmetics etc. are all part of the commodity we call, ‘the fight against aging’. While some of this can improve people sense of well-being, it is still driven by the belief that ageing is not valuable.

New Biomarkers:
Telomerase Enzyme Level

Picture the plastic cap on shoelaces. They protect the ends and stop the string from fraying. Telomeres are caps of DNA at the ends of chromosomes that protect your cells from aging. These caps naturally wear down over time. Each time a cell copies itself, as all our body cells do many times a day, telomeres shorten until they can no longer protect the cell. The cell then either stops growing or it dies. The rate at which telomeres shorten could determine the pace at which you age. Scientists view telomere length as a reliable marker of your biological age. Telomeres naturally shorten over time, but certain habits, like smoking, excessive stress, not exercising, and a diet full of processed foods can accelerate the process. People with shorter telomeres than the average length for their age group have a higher risk for serious disease and early death. Cells use a special enzyme called telomerase to keep dividing. Telomerase is the enzyme responsible for maintenance of the length of telomeres. Reliable tests are being developed to test telomeres length and telomerase.

Concept of Ageing: Body of Research

Positive ageing, successful Ageing, Mindful Sustainable Ageing

Many people are resistant to the idea of getting old or extending their years because they have a strong fear of becoming frail, sick and of no value. Global aging is present. Today, Japan is the only country in the world where those aged 60 and over represents 30% or more of the population. By 2050, 62 countries will reach that milestone. The conversation needs to shift from the aging crisis to taking advantage of the opportunities of ageing.

There’s a growing body of research about ’positive aging’, ‘successful aging’, ‘mindful sustainable aging’. With moving away from traditional retirement, people want to continue to contribute to society , to use all their hard earned experience and wisdom to explore family, personal, social and community roles. For some, it also means getting in touch with new aspects of self.

Celebrate as opposed to medicate.

Gerotranscendence Developmental Theory About Ageing
Swedish Dr. Lars Tornstam

  • Self-inquiry
  • Self-Re-Inventing
  • Self Internal Perception
  • Increasing self physical and mental capacity

Gerotranscendence is very much the theory of “a harvest to reap”. Dr. Tornstam explains Gerotranscendence as a developmental theory about ageing. It is about the individual experiences a self-inquiry and re-definition of his or her own life as a natural progression and expression of maturity, experience and wisdom, including the potential to mature into a new opportunities in life. There is also a body of evidence that by measurements of physical health, mental health and social functioning, there is greater “health” in people involved in re-inventing themselves and in mental capacity toward creative activities, whatever they are.

Set Point

  • Chronological
  • Biological
  • Psychological

A set point is about your mental attitude and outlook of your own life. You may feel younger than you are, healthier without acquired problems and mentally sharp or not so well. We often say 60 is the new 50 and so on.

Studies show that there is chronological, biological  and psychological age can be mismatched up to 20 years. You  may feel you are younger by 20 years or older by 20 years. Many factors are involved in our own personal set point such as genetic, life style, environment, work, stress management,  personality such as being a positive  as opposed to a negative person, our own capability to think outside the box, to be creative.

Concept of Well Being: Can we modify Ageing?

  • Physical
  • Financial
  • Spiritual
  • Social
  • Community

The concept of well-being and ageing is about changing perceptions.

Our physical capacity and flexibility can be maintained with some forms of exercise, diet and perhaps some well-chosen supplements.  We can first understand our burnout point and mitigate it with various techniques such as life style changes, meditation, yoga and creativity. Our financial stability can be planned over a life time although I do understand it is not always an easy task. Our psychological and spiritual state requires a greater understanding of ourselves, of who we are as people and self-inquiry.  Great opportunities will present themselves as we are opened to explore them, with benefits that we might even not suspect.

Let ageing be a period of exploration.

Ageing is not a disease

  • A mindset: Positive changes
  • Growth of the brain
  • Gene remodeling
  • Capacity

Dr. Carl Jung’s words about the stages of life are: “For the aging person, it is a duty and a necessity to devote serious attention to himself.  As we age our power of creativity can help us ‘explore and bring to life’  our unused potential, remain connected to and engaged in our communities, and live with a sense of purpose and meaning that validates our existence.”

Researchers are working to find ways to lengthen human telomeres. So far we know that lifestyle, diet, meditation and exercise may help keep telomeres healthier.

No one is offering immortality, yet, but despite these youth extending developments,  aging is still viewed  as a problem to be solved.  Researchers are looking.

Power of Creativity

  • Wisdom
  • Resilience
  • Maturity

Wisdom, resilience, and a well-rounded, mature perspective on life are often credited as the hard-earned rewards of aging, and growing old itself is an accomplishment not everyone is able to achieve fully. Looking and feeling good past the age of sixty requires a fine-tuned combination of aging gracefully, a touch of defying the laws of nature and developing the power of our creativity.