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A life worth living

01/19/2011

A few weeks ago now I heard a news story that has been weighing on my mind ever since.  Something that I can’t really get my head around. I was going to write about it before but I couldn’t….I still can’t….really understand the meaning and the implications.

The Department for Work and Pensions, based on the Office of National Statistics data, has suggested that the number of people reaching 100 is ever-increasing, to the point that 1 in 5 people could become a centenarian. The initial instinct is to feel positive….I mean that is good right? We are all more likely to live longer….and none of us really want to die.

But this is where I get stuck.  Is it good?

I just don’t think so.

A little while ago I was talking about grand parents with my kids, the boy told me that his best mate had never met one of his. Apparently she was too “confused”.

I had two wonderful and lovely grandmothers. Both were different, both were kind and both were loved by me from the bottom of my heart.  One lived a long and relatively healthy life before dying in her 90s. The other…..well sadly…..very sadly she too became “confused”.  Like many, many people she developed dementia.

To this day I feel the guilt about not being “able” to go and see her in the later stages of her….illness? disease? deterioration?  The fact is, the fact was that she was with us, but she was no longer with us.

But once again and as is my way, I digress.  The thing that I don’t understand is this, is living longer….is living to 100 a good thing? If we accept the dream about us being fit and healthy until the day we die then ok but what about:

- The pressures on the health service

- The costs to tax payers

- The impact on families and friends

Do we want people to live forever? Do we understand the implications for us socially, economically and emotionally?

And when…when does a life become………not worth living?

18 Comments leave one →
  1. 01/19/2011 08:34

    Really good blog – I saw the same data. They were cold, hard, flat numbers, but brought with them enormous connotations and emotions.

    I think we all like the idea of living for some time, healthily, happily and with loving friends and family. But that ideal, is surely, not the norm. I’ve been looking to the future far more than ever before lately, and I don’t see that 100 thing as particularly pretty.

    Surely what it’s all about is getting to a good old age and having some fantastic memories and knowing we took paths we feel good about. Not always easy to do. I don’t know what I wish for age-wise. I’m writing with a frown, which surely says I’m stuck too.

  2. 01/19/2011 08:52

    Thought provoking at least……my mother has always maintained I had to shoot her at 70 as she didn’t want to end up being “confused” or a burden to me and my sister – she is fitter and healthier than ever and at 67 I am not sure in 3 years time she will want me to use her as target practice!!

    People are living longer and medical advances are helping this happen – I think it actually opens a wider debate on whether people have the right to choose………….

  3. Robjones_Tring permalink
    01/19/2011 09:24

    Difficult subject tactfully provoked. Debates on euthanasia aside (interesting though it would be Lisa) the question I ask myself is have the advances in medicine simply surpassed the shelf life of the body?

    My Mum spouts similar rhetoric to Scalesy’s Mum but is not ready to go out to pasture (despite being mostly a bionic woman thanks to orthopaedics) but the discussion I’ve had with her is at what point is enough and who gets to choose – as long as it’s not a politician I think bring on the debate

    Thanks Theo

  4. 01/19/2011 09:52

    I too saw the report and my first and firm reaction was that I do not want to live to 100+. Medical science may be able to keep my body going until then (despite the trials I regularly put it through) but until it can keep my mind going it is a pointless (cruel) exercise in medical ego!!

    I am lucky enough to have a full set of Grandparents who have been amazing part of my life. However both Grandfathers are now suffering severe alzheimer’s and dementia and are in homes. Neither know who I am any more and the more severe case he no longer knows his wife of 70 years……the Grandmothers are distraught (can’t grieve etc..)

    The Grandfathers have no life and the way they are cared for is frankly shocking. Every family member wants them just to go to sleep and be at peace.

    I want a pill and I want my wife/family to administer it should the same fate befall me…I DO NOT want the ego of medicine to keep my body going just because it can !

  5. Sarah Knight permalink
    01/19/2011 10:19

    A thought provoking start to the day. Here I am now considering whether I will grow old gracefully or end up driving my family mad as they wait for me to die because I have ‘lost my marbles’ and become a burden.

    My paternal grandfather died at 91 when I was 24, the day before (no doubt) he had been roaring around on his motorbike with his girlfriend (30 years his junior) on the back. As a family we laugh at how he was still tap dancing in the kitchen kicking his leg above his head, or fixing the roof of his house in his late 80’s. What a legend he was, I’m hoping I inherited his genes and live to a ripe old age with half the quality of life he enjoyed.

    My maternal grandmother died at 82 when I was 15, I hardly knew her. She had ‘lost it’ years before and so to me was always a tiny figure in a bed that talked rubbish lots of the time. She was a much loved burden that could do nothing for herself, and her ‘life’ was story I was told but could never appreciate.

    I loved them both dearly and miss them both hugely. Now I’m wondering what fate my parents, uncles, aunts, siblings and cousins have in store. Scary isn’t it.

    Thanks for the smiles though, I haven’t though about Grandad Charlie for a while. He was an absolute legend. Hopefully I’ll have another 25 years with my parents enjoying the quality of life that he did.

  6. 01/19/2011 10:37

    I never met 2 of my grandparents (as they died before I was born) and the other two died before I was 8 so I only have dim memories of mine.. So sometimes I wish they had lived longer so I had known them better.

    But then if they had lived longer, would they have got too ‘confused’ to even know who I was? At least this way, the very dim memories are still good ones I suppose..

    It’s something that will be brought up more and more I guess! Very thought provoking..

  7. 01/19/2011 10:37

    The main problem as I see it; will we have the staff to look after those who reach this age?

    If you’re parents reach 100 it is unlikely that you’ll be young and strong enough to look after them yourself so we will look to others for support… it is hard to find individuals who want to work in the care facility as it is… will our future generations want to and have the skills to do so?

    Of course there is also the financial implications to the family – now the retirement age is going out of the window I’m sure many people will be working into their 70’s to compensate…

    I am going to stay in my bubble and just hope to God I reach a respectable age as healthy as possible and die peacefully in my sleep… like I said I’m staying in my bubble.

  8. 01/19/2011 10:38

    I don’t think anyone wants to get old and confused but it happens.

    I don’t think anyone wants to be obese but it happens.

    I don’t think anyone wants to get a terminal illness but it happens.

    Maybe as a society we have a responsibility to look after those less fortunate than ourselves. One day we might just be in their position…

  9. 01/19/2011 11:59

    My Nan refused medical care when she found out she had terminal cancer. She also kept it secret. Till the month she died, no-one (including her daughters) knew she was ill and she didn’t slow down one bit. She took the view that medical advances would be capable of prolonging her life, but that the side-effects would be such that it wouldn’t be her life any longer. When she started to go downhill, it happened at great pace. Up until the last few weeks, she was fine in her own home – then straight into hospital and two weeks of saying goodbyes. No lingering illness for the family to endure, and the pride of going out on your own terms.

    Most importantly, I would wish that everyone gets to make the choice themselves. For me, my Nan got it right. I hope I have that kind of strength should I face the same decision.

  10. ThinkingFox permalink
    01/19/2011 12:47

    Wow Theo!, I’m sitting here with a hot Mocha and suddenly BAM! You confront us all with our own mortality.

    I used to believe that I wanted to live forever, rather like my kids do today, but as I’ve got older I’ve realised that old age isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.

    Whenever I read an obituary of an ex-resistance fighter or similar it always strikes me how frail and inactive they became at the end of their lives. “I’ve commanded armies and conquered worlds”… sure, but you’ve spent the last 5 years in an old people’s home having your bum washed by a stranger making minimum wage…

    I hope when my turn comes, it comes quickly, quietly, and before I’ve outstayed my welcome with my kids and their children.

    On the other hand there’d be nothing worse than to die as Cecil Rhodes, muttering “so much to do, so little done”

  11. garethmjones permalink
    01/19/2011 13:17

    Is a tough one and something that i too have been thinking about. the thought of living longer can be great, but obviously we want health to go with it. but there is an additional problem that we are all facing if we are under 60 right now, and thats the affordability issue. We may live longer, and be lucky enough to be healthy, but weather we can afford to have a half decent life, or feed ourselves properly or be able to live without dying of hypothermia is in real doubt.

    As individuals, we have not yet woken up to the prospect that awaits us thanks to the largesse of recent years, the collapse of the financial markets and the change in demographics. A significant number of us face living in abject poverty when we pass retirement age if we cannot find work. Thats you and me, professionals with good incomes and families. But with inadequate pension provision.

    I also think that judythesweetspot has a good point – we have a duty as a society to look after those less fortunate and there are going to be one hell of a lot of those. Care for the elderly will be a big issue.

  12. 01/19/2011 15:31

    Both my grandmothers were relatively healthy until they died in their mid 90s. A little bit of confusion at the end, but physically, they were OK. Each lived on her own until the last two years of life.

    I wouldn’t mind living to 100 if I were healthy, sane and had friends around. I wouldn’t want to be kept alive through lots of medical intervention. I wouldn’t want to be demented.

    But what I really really do not want is someone else deciding my life is not worth living and taking steps to end my life. Every life is precious and a gift. If we go naturally, if we are sick and decline medical care (without pressure), then fine.

    But if others decide we are not worthy of life because we consume too many resources or whatever and then these others end our life somehow, that is very bad. Who decides what life is worth living? Who decides when that life comes to an end? Nobody, especially the state, should have the power of life and death over another. (Yes, I am against capital punishment for that very reason. No matter what, I do not want the state to get to decide who lives and who dies.)

  13. 01/19/2011 17:17

    A friend of mine has a genetic disease whereby her muscles disappear. Since 2 years she is unable to move, show any emotions, talk or even swallow. She has a breathing apparatus, without which she can not survive. She only communicates with her eyes but still manages to write emails by using computer technology which tracks her eye movements. She considers her life worth living.

  14. MrAirmiles permalink
    01/19/2011 20:28

    I sometimes ask myself: If I was to die tomorrow would I die a happy man? Answer is yes, as I like to live every day as if it was the last.
    Ok, I wouldn’t have seen all things and been to all the places I wanted (amongst other things) but to date everyday has been worth living, be it a good or bad day.

    With all the advances in the medical field chances are we’ll soon be able to choose how long we want to live for, including forever, maybe even when we want to die! However, those who want to may have their wish cut short as a result of an accident, sudden illness or natural disaster.

    Having helped to care for elderly grandparents (great way to learn and hear stories from them), I know full well it’s not easy for them as it’s not for everyone else. Would I want to live forever and make someone else’s life a misery just because I want to be “selfish” and live til 120? Is life really worth living into one’s hundreds? Hell No!
    Why not live it while we can, rather than burthen someone else’s life… You can tell I don’t want to end up in an old person’s house running around in white robes staring into space…

  15. Karen (Sayya26) permalink
    01/20/2011 13:57

    In this part of the world, as far as I know, the most the elderly get is an old age pension every month and they have access to the same public health care (which sucks by the way) as the rest of us.

    It’s really up to the families to take care of their own.

    As for the philosophical question of when is life not worth living? It’s not worth living the day we die. Unfortunately, some of us will end up in the undesirable state of “confused” or “bed ridden” or something else that will put a burden on someone else that we don’t want.

    Personally, I’m a parent now so I’m getting an idea of what my mom had to go through to take care of me because taking care of a baby is not easy. I can’t see myself not taking care of my mom if the day reaches when she can no longer take care of herself and I hope my kids will do the same for me.

  16. 01/26/2011 09:56

    @Kay Phelps -Agreed, which means we should live in the now?

    @Lisa Scales – I’m not sure the police would see that as a valid defence either! :)

    @RobJones_Tring – I don’t think I’m qualified to touch the euthanasia debate…..

    @Chris Underwood – The question is at what point do you decide that enough is enough?

    @Sarah Knight – You’re welcome!

    @Emily Steveson – Thanks for taking the time to comment. I guess none of us have the answers….

    @Job_Doctor – There are a lot of us in that there bubble!

    @jusythesweetspot – Thanks for taking the time to comment. I agree that we should take the time, but when do you reach tipping point? I don’t know.

    @James Mayes – Thanks for sharing that James.

    @ThinkingFox – Great points….and sorry to spoil your girly Mocha….

    @garethmjones- It will be an expensive issue too….

    @The gold digger – Interesting…and I agree. This should not be a state decision.

    @Ralph Bassfield – Wonderful. I’m in awe of people who handle life like that. Thank you.

    @MrAirmiles – Tough one isn’t it? Who know….

    @Karen – I hope that is the case too….with my kids and with yours.

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