Treatment Of Old Age
( Originally Published 1936 )
The treatment of old age should be begun in middle age. All the activities of life must be diminished. Long periods of physical or mental exertion are to be absolutely interdicted. This is wisdom, not only for the individual, but for the social organism.
One of the wisest men I know said he never intended to write a business letter, make an important decision, or write a check for less than $50, after the age of 65. He did not, I regret to say, carry out his intentions, but the idea is a good one just the same. Such things should be turned over to the younger generation. The Struldbrugs, in Swift's narrative, those people who never die, had, by the laws of the land in which they lived, all their property taken away from them at the age of 80.
In his recent book, "Science and Human Life," Dr. J. B. S. Haldane has pointed out the totally different economic balance of the world which has resulted from the extension of the span of human life. It consists in concentration of tremendous amounts of wealth in the hands of old people who are not prone to use it for active enterprises. Perhaps if the life span is extended much more, we may have to come to the plan of the Laputans in their economic treatment of the Struldbrugs.
The wise physician will make careful allowances for the mental attitude of older persons. Many of them, when they realize that changes of old age are approaching, become extremely pessimistic and decide that any pleasure which may be gotten out of life is over for them, and they withdraw into themselves completely.
An entirely different attitude is that of the ones who believe they are better than they ever were, deny any change in their mental or physical powers, and endeavor to over-compensate for their aging processes by redoubling their activities, making far-reaching decisions with an aggressiveness they would not have displayed when they were younger.
Neither of these attitudes is correct, and wise persuasion may effect a sensible readjustment. The wholesome mental attitude is to recognize that there are certain unpleasant features of old age which cannot be helped, but that life, within certain limits, is still worth while.