the-south-asian.com FEBRUARY 2002
FEBRUARY 2002 Contents
'My Secret of
at Every Alien Door'
Fashion & Jewellery
- breaking mind barriers !
(The author has specialized in the study of Ageing in South Asian societies)
The definition of old age has changed. Expectation of life at birth has been rising steadily and people are living longer. An extended lifespan becomes meaningful if we can enhance it by adding meaning and quality to it. Ageing is all about attitude – the attitude of society and family towards the senior members and, more importantly, also the attitude of seniors towards life and their interaction with others within the family.
In South Asian societies , it is the marginalisation, within the family, of the aged, that develops into a near-crisis situation. Ageing should not necessarily mean the ‘giving up’ of the earlier roles of responsibility within the family. A sense of ongoing involvement with the day-to-day affairs within the family structure fulfills the need of ‘being wanted’. The ‘modern’ South Asians seem to overlook this very important need of the seniors – their need to converse and their need to still feel an important member of the family. Giving shelter and food is not enough – love, compassion and active involvement are vital ingredients.
The most important factor in ‘quality ageing’ is the presence of a strong interest in life – a focus or a passion to pursue. Most of the people who live well into their eighties and nineties are the ones who have led active and fruitful lives – and are still pursuing their interests with a passion. A hobby or an active interest is the most potent anti-ageing pill that promises ‘eternal youth’ – almost so. The Golden Years should be viewed as a time of evolvement and regeneration. Biological time cannot be turned back – but quality time can be created. Ageing is the process of breaking mind barriers. It is the sum total of our life’s experiences and how we use these experiences. The best pill is to live with passion for something, to have a strong creative interest in life.
Is longevity genetically determined?
Science does not have definite answers yet about how individual cells age. It is a field that is still being studied intensively. But we do know that longevity, at times, runs in certain families. This genetic aspect of longevity has provided certain clues about why some people live longer than others. At the core of every cell in our body is a long chain of genetic material called DNA. At the end of each chunk within this chain is a structure called telomere. With repeated divisions of cell, telomeres get shorter and shorter and until very recently telomere shortening was thought to be the cause of ageing. We do know now of an enzyme within the cells, called telomerase, which can " ..add a little extra DNA to the end of the chromosome and make it a little longer.... and it can do that in very mature cells in our body."
A BBC programme on ageing and longevity looked into how mutation of single genes can increase the life-span of "Methusela" flies, and mutant worms by three times. The muted gene tells these creatures not to die. The same technique could be used to extend the lifespan of human beings. People who live to be over 100 years old have this specific longevity gene.
Do Redwood Trees live to be 3000 - 4000 years old?
Leonard Hayflick, of University of California, participating in the BBC programme on ageing and longevity, says - No, they are only 30 or 40 years old. He explains why.
"There’s a popular myth that redwood trees are 3,000 or 4,000 years old and bristle cone pines perhaps even older. The fact of the matter is that those trees are not as old as we have been taught to believe they are... those trees are no older than 30 or 40 years. The bark of course is dead and the next layers that you penetrate are the living cambium layers, but as you penetrate further into the trunk that tissue is dead. The oldest living cells in a redwood tree or a bristle cone pine are found in the needles and they’re no older than about 30 years, so that all viewers who are older than 30 years are older than the oldest redwood tree. The tree has learned how to hold on to its dead cells for architectural purposes. You and I have not learned how to do that and consequently don’t end up being as big as a redwood tree. We have going on in our bodies what’s called cell turnover. We have cells dividing, some classes dividing every day, others dividing every week and others dividing every month or two. With the exception of your neurons and your muscle cells, the cells that were present in your body 10 or 15 or 20 years ago are no longer there, so that you are literally not the same person you were 10 years ago. As a matter of fact when you celebrate your birthday you should only be celebrating the birthday of your neurons and muscle cells which have been around since birth. Everything else is new."
There is an entire spectrum of factors responsible for ageing - ranging from genetic, physical, mental to social. The genetic factors are beyond our control - the others are not. Many well known personalities from the South Asian region are living creative and active lives well beyond their seventies (Khushwant Singh, Lata Mangeshkar, Ustad Bismillah Khan, Hashim Khan the Grand Master of Squash, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Yamini Krishnamurthy, Zohra Segal to name a few) and some, like the hotelier M S Oberoi and the artist/sculptor B C Sanyal have celebrated their hundredth birthday. May God Bless them all with many, many more years.
next page - 'My Secret of Longevity'
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