Is Aging a Disease?

A man and woman laying in bed smiling for the camera.

Many of the things we blame on aging have nothing to do with getting older.

~ Unknown


Aging in Place

Here is an opinion piece by Dr. Ramiah Ramasubramanian MD, FRCA (England).

The answer is a resounding YES.

People who argue otherwise are responding emotionally because they are one in a great long line of generations who have been strongly conditioned and forced by very strong cultural and religious influences, and romantic ideas to REVERE OLD AGE and the aging process! Add to this multigenerational mindset the demonstrably true phenomenon called WISDOM that reaches a peak during the later decades of life, you have one hell of a mental barrier that makes most people, including some highly intelligent individuals, strongly resistant to the underlying reality of the BIOLOGY of aging.

If you do a survey of old people and ask them the MIDAS question – assume that you are living in the most advanced scientific and technological world where anything is possible, what is the one precious and most valuable and treasured gift you would like to have, the answer from most individuals would be: ETERNAL YOUTH (EY). History tells us that from very ancient times to our current age, in mythology, fiction, philosophy, science, and in real world, individuals and groups have relentlessly and vigorously pursued and sought from a variety of sources the ever-elusive fountain of EY. This is undeniable. Ask the question: Why? Because most, not all, will invariably recall the days of joyful living without physical limitations, the endless opportunities in life that were always within their reach, and most importantly, the seemingly inexhaustible sources of PHYSICAL and MENTAL ENERGY!

As a society and as a country, we have managed to tell ourselves many convenient and rosy fairytales about the old age and the process of aging. Many of these tales were based on the fixed notions of inevitability of old age and apparent limits to the changes one can make to the underlying biology of aging. The power of convergence of the new biology (genomics), computing, modern data analysis and ubiquitous networks is shaking the very foundations of long-established notions, theories and “age old” practices – (pun intended)- in many disciplines – including gerontology- that study old age. There is a cliché about future that often gets repeated in business and management world: don’t try to predict the future; invent and create the future you wish. But history shows us that future belongs to those who are capable of effortlessly “imagining the unimaginable “- things that are beyond the reach of the logical mind. It is not without (intuitive) reason that Einstein stated that imagination is more important than theories and hypotheses.

I often ask myself the question: what is the single most important contribution of gerontology as a discipline? In my view, due to a variety of reasons, gerontology has accepted as one of its foundational principles the immutability of old age and the process of aging. As a result, it has spent of its intellectual energy during the last century in “making the unacceptable aspects of aging acceptable “through a variety of theories and practices. This certainly is no small achievement for a soft science like gerontology. (Some may dispute my treatment of gerontology as a science.This is a debate for another day).

Gerontology is stuck in what I would call phase 1 of its evolution – the formative and early to intermediate state of development. If, as an intellectual and practical discipline, gerontology is to have a place in the future of humanity , it needs to urgently reconsider its role and transition into phase 2 where, as a mature branch of science of aging it will have to confront and face head on the inevitable challenges that will most certainly emerge from the convergence of the key branches of sciences I highlighted earlier in this message. One such challenge is the question that originates from the area- is aging a disease?

In my view, if gerontology shies away and ignores or refuse to deal with key development in the field of biology of aging and longevity, gerontology will largely lose its relevance and importance.

Hard sciences, like biology, will continue to March forward and provide answers to many of the biological conundrums and challenges of aging. It is soft sociological sciences like gerontology that will be expected to provide innovative thinking and the WISDOM that are necessary and essential to deal with the crucial ethical and moral challenges that result from revolutionary new biology and its allied sciences. Unfortunately, gerontology cannot meet these challenges if it fails to recognize one crucial fact: that most of the exciting and practical solutions to problems of aging are the result of recognizing and treating aging as a disease and applying the power of hard sciences to these problems.

“Dr. Rama” is a practicing, board-certified anesthesiologist with a fellowship in surgical critical care. He lives and works in the Portland, Oregon area.

Health eBytes: The Science of Optimal Aging, Ramiah Ramasubramanian MD, FRCA (England)


Note: As creator of and content moderator I am staying neutral on this opinion piece. I posted it for intellectual discussion only, and don’t necessarily fully support all points made.

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