weekly blog--one for the ages
With Passover approaching, we travel back in time to take a look at how the elderly were treated in ancient Egypt. From the age of the pyramids around 3000 B.C., Egyptian society had highly developed family life and religious beliefs in an afterlife. Sons were expected to care for elderly parents, especially the father, and to maintain their tombs. Living to 110 years was considered the reward for a balanced and virtuous life. Aging was associated with illness and health beliefs centered on cleansing the body with ritual sweating, vomiting and bowel cleansing. The customary greeting was “How do you sweat?”
The Sir Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus that was written in 2800-2700 B.C. is one of the most ancient existing medical documents. It contains the earliest known written remedy for aging featuring recipes for a special ointment and directions for its use: “It is a remover of wrinkles from the head. When the flesh is smeared therewith it becomes a beautifier of the skin, remover of blemishes, of all disfigurements, of all signs of age, of all weaknesses which are in the flesh.” In the margin is a note written in informal Coptic script by the scribe drawing the hieroglyphs: “Found effective myriad times.”
The hieroglyph indicating "old age" or "to grow old" is a bent human figure resting on a staff. It is the earliest known artistic depiction of an old person. The Sir Edwin Smith Surgical papyrus tells us that since the beginning of recorded history people have tried to minimize or avoid aging because of the diminishment of vitality and strength.
Another ancient Egyptian medical document, the Eber’s papyrus (c. 1550 B.C.), contains the earliest known attempt to explain the manifestations of aging. It describes urinary difficulties such as frequent urination and obstruction, cardiac pain, palpitations, deafness, eye diseases and malignancy. To the Egyptians, “debility through senile decay” was caused by “purulency of the heart.” This theory that some unknown process affects the heart and causes aging is reflected in other ancient cultures.
It was not until the Ptolemaic Period (305 B.C. to 30 B.C.) that dates for birth, marriage, death and sometimes burial, were recorded. The average age at death in Egypt at that time was 54 years for men and 58 for women.
In general, children, daughters as well as sons, inherited all possessions from their parents. If a couple was childless, they had the options of adoption, divorce and remarriage, and even polygamy. Divorce was fairly easy to accomplish; since there was no ceremonial wedding, the bond could be dissolved with no formality.
Regarding pensions…the state supported its soldiers, primarily by allotting them plots of land, together with agricultural workers. There is also evidence that elderly soldiers were given honorary positions in temples. One such was Maya, who served under Tuhtmosis III. He was given the "gold of honor" to reward gallant soldiers, and was awarded the title "governor and chief of the prophets." Another soldier named Amenemone, a general in the 18th Dynasty, was appointed steward of a funerary temple of Tuthmosis III.
On Tuesday, American President Trump congratulated Russian President Putin on his reelection that put him at odds with his own advisers and administration actions. But let’s give credit where credit is due. It seems that Putin is fulfilling his goal of becoming president for life. And from what one of our operatives reports from deep inside the Kremlin, it could be for a very long time. The proof is in what Putin, age 65, eats and how he exercises.
According to our operative, Putin eats breakfast shortly after noon. Cottage cheese is always on the menu, alongside an omelet, and sometimes porridge and quail eggs, which feature health benefits that improve vision, boost energy levels, stimulate growth and repair, improve metabolism, reduce blood pressure, soothe allergies, cleanse the body, and prevent chronic diseases. He then washes down everything with fruit juice, and after being served coffee, he spends two hours swimming.
For those of us pressed for time or can’t find quail eggs to eat, scientists might soon offer a longevity elixir thanks to a compound called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, or NAD+ for short.
NAD+ is a molecule found in all living cells and is critical for regulating cellular aging and maintaining proper function of the whole body. Levels of NAD+ in people and animals diminish significantly over time, and researchers have found that re-upping NAD+ in older mice causes them to look and act younger, as well as live longer than expected.
Now scientists are trying to achieve similar results in humans. A randomized control trial found that people who took a daily supplement containing NAD+ precursors had a substantial, sustained increase in their NAD+ levels over a two-month period. One of the scientists said he takes an NAD+ pill daily, and no longer experiences hangovers or jet lag like he used to, talks faster, and feels sharper and younger. His 78-year-old father takes it too, and now goes on six-day hikes and travels around the world.
The scientist eventually hopes to create a pill that could be prescribed by a doctor or purchased over the counter. But if you can't wait, another company, Elysium, is already selling a supplement called Basis that contains compounds known to boost NAD+ levels.
Whose streets these are I think I know.
My house is in the village though;
No one will see me here
Because the streets are quickly filling with snow.
Of easy wind and downy flake,
The deserted, car-free streets are lovely to take;
Walking now between the village stores, Crystal Lake and home
I have minutes to go before I begin to shovel more snow.
Over the past few weeks I’ve seen several documentaries about our criminal justice system. Prisons focused on treating abuse and addiction in meaningful ways, and providing programs that boost prisoner self-esteem, and provide educational advancement and job training seem to work better than programs focused on punishment.
And then there are the old people behind bars, generally defined as prisoners aged 50 years or older. Experts have determined that this group ages prematurely because of overall prison conditions including stress, substandard health care and nutrition, as well as histories of poverty and high levels of mental health problems.
Currently, there are an estimated 131,000 people age 55 or older in state prisons nationwide, housed at a cost of some $9 billion annually. By 2030, an estimated one in three people in federal or state prisons will be aged 55 or older—more than triple the proportion in the early 1990s because of an era of long sentences driven by harsh criminal-justice policies on drugs.
Older prisoners are diverse, including first time offenders, aged recidivists, those serving long or life sentences, and those incarcerated for short periods late in life. The aged in prison face many challenges beginning with the unsuitability of facilities. Many prisons were built in the 19th century with younger offenders in mind. Problems include wheelchair accessibility to outdoor courtyards, and being disallowed walking sticks or frames because they might be considered weapons.
Other issues range from who should change sheets for incontinent prisoners to problems with frailty, mobility, safety, and medical and mental health needs. Also, there is a need for age appropriate activities since nearly all programs target young offenders. In some prisons there is gym equipment, but older prisoners may be given lower priority for access or pushed off. There is also the potential for victimization, especially in the case of sex offenders, who tend to be older when convicted and are among the most stigmatized in our society.
For state prisons, the consequence of taking care of the older prisoner is the cost, which can be four to eight times higher than for younger prisoners. In 2013, nearly half the $58 million that Virginia spent on off-site prisoner health care went to the care of older prisoners.
Many states have taken steps to reduce their prison populations by releasing nonviolent inmates or by diverting some offenders to community programs before sending them to prison. However, corrections officials say those reforms alone do little to decrease the population of older prisoners who are serving mandatory sentences or have committed violent crimes.
Several states have adopted programs such as early release for geriatric patients or “compassionate release” for the dying (See NY Times article below). But advocates for prisoners say the programs are often so cumbersome and restrictive that few older prisoners are able to take advantage of them. When aging prisoners do reach the end of their sentences, corrections officials often have a hard time placing them in private nursing homes because the homes do not want to take them.
On the positive side, a number of states have chosen to add services for an elderly population, including a special dementia unit for prisoners in New York State, and housing units just for the elderly in Ohio. In 2012, Connecticut contracted with a private nursing home to care for elderly and infirm inmates granted parole. But even there, the state is locked in a battle with the federal government over whether the facility qualifies for Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement.
Louisiana, Ohio and Virginia have “geriatric conditional release” laws that make old age grounds for consideration for an early release. In Virginia, prisoners are automatically considered for release if they are age 60 and have served 13 years, or if they are age 65 and have served five years.
Studies have found that older ex-offenders are less likely than younger ones to commit additional crimes after their release. But politicians and the public don’t seem willing to release former murderers, rapists and sex offenders, even though they are decades removed from their crimes and physically incapable of repeating them, said the president of a nonprofit association that works on behalf of ex-offenders.
As baby boomers reject traditional terms for aging, a new war on words is unfolding with more than $4.6 trillion in economic activity for products and services at stake. Not surprisingly the term "senior citizen" is out, as is "mature adult” or any words that carry a negative connotation.
So what are the terms that boomers will positively respond to?
You don’t have to look any further than the traditional “senior center.” Consider the newly renamed Center for Active Living in Plymouth, Mass. or the Community Life Center in Salem. There is also a shift away from passive meeting places for eating and board games to more vibrant, intergenerational venues featuring lectures and the arts. For example, Plymouth’s center is on the campus of one of its two high schools.
Regardless, as more and more boomers reach retirement age, you will less likely see the word “senior” used to attract attention, and if you do, it will often be paired with a word that provides a more positive spin such as Natick’s recently rechristened Natick-Community Senior Center.
One Last Thing...When time permits, visit ConfrontingAging's newest page: Quest to Look Young.