In an age when everyone is living longer, human beings have difficulty accepting the idea of having to die
Modern scientific research has profoundly changed the course of human existence, as humans have never enjoyed such good health or lived so far into old age. However, scientific advances have also turned ageing and death into medical experiences, which means they are only manageable through the healthcare system.
As we live longer, death itself can become a very long process, which we must learn to cope with. Death should not be seen as a failure, or as an enemy, but as an event that follows the natural order of things. Death is as inevitable as taxes, and there is no escape from the tragedy of life, which is that we start growing old from the very moment we come into the world.
Thinking about death or illness is not pleasant, yet sooner or later, everyone is confronted with one or both, either directly or indirectly. Directly, when we witness the slow ageing of our bodies, and indirectly, when it happens to our loved ones. What’s more, since it is an inevitable process, we cannot help but talk about death and dying.
As we age, our organs slowly lose their strength and efficiency. Bones, muscles, and teeth become less dense, while blood vessels and joints harden. As the body undergoes this process, the heart is forced to pump harder, in order to maintain blood flow, causing high blood pressure in many elderly people. Even the brain is not immune to deterioration, as it shrinks over the years, sometimes leading to dementia. As the body weakens, we become more fragile, more prone to illness, and less able to take care of ourselves. Weak muscles cause potentially life-threatening falls in many older people, forcing them to seek outside help. The main risk factors for falls are poor balance, muscle weakness, and a reliance on more than four prescription medications.
The ageing process makes it increasingly difficult to maintain an independent lifestyle. Even the simplest and most mundane daily activities, such as shopping for food or using the bathroom, become more complicated. Eventually, many people find themselves needing the permanent help of family or specialised medical personnel, which often means having to spend the last years of their life in a hospital or nursing home.
It is essential that we acknowledge ageing and death as inevitable, and that we try to make the experience as painless as possible.