CHANGES WHICH OCCUR IN BODY WHEN FOLK ARE GROWING OLD
TALLEYRAND said, “Everybody wants to live long, but nobody wants to be old.” But you can’t have both wishes. Old age is a physiological process which makes definite changes in the body quite as natural as the reverse processes which occur during the period of growth on the other side of the Hill of Life.
The late Dr. Warthin called old age “the major involution,” meaning it was a change of all the organs of the body, as contrasted with “minor involution,” in which a single organ was concerned.
In general, the changes which occur in the body in old age consist in atrophy and a replacement of parenchymatous tissues with connective or interstitial tissues. Specifically, changes in the accommodation of the eye are the first signs of old age; next, change in the color of the hair, as well as destruction of many hair follicles, causing partial or complete baldness. Gradual loss of teeth from root atrophy is next. Height is reducedold people shrink in all dimensions. The atrophy of the cartilages of the back tends to make a stooping posture. General weight decreases. The elasticity of the skin is lost. There is a diminution of sex potency. The joints become stiffened. The arteries harden and become tortuous. There is a definite change in the excursion of the chest and, hence, chronic bronchitis is common. There is diminution in the digestive juices. In men, changes in the prostate gland cause difficulties in urination.
With this there go perfectly definite changes in mental activity, a process of recession from the world. Opposition to new ideas; gradual loss of memory and power of attention. Old people tend to be sleepless at night and sleepy in the daytime. Stubbornness, suspiciousness, “a fall of the ethical level,” sometimes tendencies to emotionalism, are well-known outward manifestations of gradual inner organic change.
All this is entirely physiological, and not disease in the real sense at all. But it is no great wonder that mankind does not contemplate entrance into this state with any degree of happiness.
Perhaps the most terrible passage in all English literature is Jonathan Swift’s account of the Struldbrugs, who lived in Luggnagg: “Sometimes a child happens to be born with a red circular spot on the forehead, an infallible mark that it will never die.” I commend to all those who are attempting to extend their span of life, the tenth chapter, “The Voyage to Laputa,” in “Gulliver’s Travels.”