Time is a cruel mistress, society can be kinder

As things stand, Michael Jackson may have been on to something.

Israeli scientists recently made headlines when they announced a possible breakthrough in ‘reversing’ the ageing process. That’s right. It seems the ‘holy grail’ of the beauty industry may have lain in a back-to-basics solution all along: pure oxygen.

As part of the study, 35 individuals over the age of 64 were exposed to high-pressure oxygen inside a hyperbaric oxygen chamber over three months – the kind of chamber the King of Pop reportedly spent regular sessions in, in the hopes of ‘living forever’. Well, researchers in Israel have now found that the treatment actually returned subjects’ bodies to the cellular levels they were at 25 years ago. And the news is already sparking questions of a realm of hitherto unimaginable possibilities – including (perhaps the wildest of them all) immortality.

Humans have long resisted Time’s slow-but-steady march to the finish line. It’s not all vanity. Apart from the genuine fear of the unknown (aka what lies on the other side), the loss of faculties and the agony of loneliness make for a much poorer quality of life. Society is mercilessly quick to forget those they deem ‘over the hill’. And little has changed in recent years to make the older generation feel visible, fulfilled and accepted.

An 11-country survey, released last week, offered a shocking reminder of this pitiable reality. The study, which interviewed nearly 9,000 older people, found that those belonging to this demographic are being “systematically failed” around the world by aid agencies. Unfortunately, older women even fared far worse than older men, with the majority of those surveyed having no income and no access to food and healthcare. The scene is not exactly promising in contexts where the elderly are not among those affected by crises and conflicts, as several reports in recent months continue to warn against the rise of elder abuse in the time of Covid-19.

Is it any wonder the global anti-aging market runs to the tune of billions? For all our stories celebrating 60 as ‘the new 40’ or even ushering in world leaders who are well into their 70s, societies continue to neglect and sideline those who were once key contributors to building up the world we currently enjoy. Not to take credit away from those to whom it is due, but we do have an unhealthy obsession with the accomplishments of the young.

Television writer and producer Melissa Hunter summed it up in a single tweet at the start of the year, saying: “Instead of 30 Under 3 or NextGen lists, please profile middle-aged people who just got their big breaks. I want to read about a mother of two who published her first novel, a director who released their first studio feature at 47, that’s the list we want.”

Well, the Twitterverse responded – and it was wholesome, with tales of a 60-year-old working on her doctorate and a 75-year-old who went on an archaeological dig, among others. But these tales are perhaps relatively few and far in between. Not everyone in that age bracket will be able to boast such laurels. As a society, however, we can still afford them dignity and visibility. And we can do so even if we don’t have treatments that can help turn the clock back to one’s heydays again.


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