Living to 100 nothing to crow about

17:00, Jun 13 2012
mick std
MICK JAGGER: The man who famously sang "What a drag it is, getting old" is now deep in the grips of that most universal disease - aging.

Oh how fab it would be to live to be 100. I guess. How grateful I am that medical science offers my descendants this gift. Or am I?

The Financial Services Council says half the people born last year will live that long, and warns of a looming pension crisis as more and more people retire, and fewer and fewer are in paid work. It looks as if half of all workers by the end of this century will be toiling in granny farms and the rest will be working in the death industry, tidying up afterwards. The good news is that at least those businesses will be thriving.

The slightly less good news is that people will be very old for a very, very long time.

By then, living for a century won't even have enough novelty value to merit a telegram from royalty, still less 60 seconds of television fame. Making it to that age may sound great when you're young, but you don't get to be 25 for another 75 years; you get to be old as hell for far longer than you'll enjoy living.

When my great-aunt, at 97, used to say she'd lived too long, she meant it. Nothing was wrong with her mentally, but physically her body had almost given up, and she was forced to spend her days among other old people who'd lost the plot, watching a communal television set with lousy sound quality and reception while they gibbered and drowned out the news anyway.

A few people, a very few, may still be up on their pins at 100, able to remember their own name, and feeding themselves with a spoon without dropping yoghurt into their lap, but the rest will be totally dependent on the kindness of strangers.

To be 50 for 50 years might be tolerable, to be 40 for 60 years would be good, but to be 100 for even one year wouldn't be fun, suffering from chronic conditions that trip lightly off a doctor's tongue but are a bitch to live with.

Try arthritis, or a heart packing up on you by degrees. Try breaking your bones regularly because they're old and brittle. Think about staring your own children in the face and struggling to remember their names. Picture yourself incontinent. And imagine dealing with chemotherapy - cancer would be inevitable by then - when you're already frail and wispy.

Then, as now, it will mean living in an old folks' home for the last 15 years of your life because you can't manage living at home, which means selling your possessions, and downsizing to the contents of a sponge bag and a change of knickers and going into a holding bay decorated in varicose-vein blue and nipple pink, reeking of disinfectant after the last inhabitant's last accident.

By the time half the population gets to be 100, it'll be worse than that. They'll have to house old people in dormitories because there'll be so many of them, and too little money to look after them in a more civilised fashion.

They tell us to save for our dotage, but who has the spare cash to do it? Besides, with residential care already costing a couple of grand a week in today's money, that's plain facetious. And that means the state will be paying out not just pensions, if they still exist, but the cost of keeping people alive while they await the Reaper.

I haven't dwelt on the various unpleasant forms of mental deterioration. I guess a medical solution to that will be taking sedatives to zonk people out - in which case, why be alive?

So I picture compulsory euthanasia for people who can't look after themselves, and no longer enjoy what we euphemistically call quality of life, when we really mean life itself.

Rather than making it to 100, people will down sugar-coated poison and opt for oblivion at 70, out of consideration for taxpayers, and fear of being a nuisance.

And in short, I simply don't believe that prediction.


The Dominion Post