A growing list of the indignities of old age

August 12th 2009

At the meeting of provincial premiers and aboriginal leaders this week in Regina, Manitoba’s Gary Doer characterized the H1N1 influenza pandemic careening toward Canada as a “truck coming around a corner.”

Make that two trucks – or better, a train – if you’re of a certain age. The wattled age. A wrinkly, with your reasoning, speed of thought and spatial visualization known to look like the insides of a putrefied cantaloupe and your productivity measured far down the ski slope of life.

Italian researcher Stefano Merler, writing recently in the medical journal BMC Infectious Diseases, says that halting the prescription of flu drugs for those over 65 could be the most effective way of containing infection and saving lives.

Mathematically modelling the 1918-19 flu pandemic that claimed between 20 million and 40 million lives and was most lethal to those in their 30s, Dr. Merler calculated that when antiviral drugs were given to adults of working age, the mortality rate dropped by as much as 40 per cent. But when they were given to those over 65, the death rate fell by no more than 2.8 per cent.

“Although a policy of age-specific prioritization of antiviral use will be controversial ethically,” he said, in what could be termed a mouthful, “it may be the most effective use of stockpiled therapies.

“This is of particular importance for countries where the amount stockpiled is well below the World Health Organization’s suggested level.”

Like Italy, which has enough doses stockpiled for only an estimated 12 per cent of its population – considerably below the WHO’s 25-per-cent minimum – but likely not Canada, with sufficient stockpiled doses calculated to treat everyone expected to get sick enough to see a doctor or take a day off from work (keeping in mind that the old seem more resistant to infection than the young).

Although who knows? When the waterhole gets smaller, the animals get meaner, and our Red Tory collectivism in Canada belongs to history’s dust.

A British newspaper columnist uses the word codgercide to describe the implications of Dr. Merler’s European Union-funded research, and, in truth, if you are old, you do have grounds for being apprehensive about how warmly welcome you are at the waterhole, especially when you are being called “dear” and offered a seat on public transit.

The old have become too numerous. They are starting to cross the age-65 line in mobs. They are not as good to look at as the young. They are not chipmunks. People are nice to chipmunks in their garden, even if they do steal bulbs, because they are cute. Old people are not cute.

Ageism is the new pre-60s sexism. “Although she’s 63, her mind is still as sharp as a tack.” “What a shot from those 59-year-old hands.”

A survey by the Canadian Association for Retired Persons (CARP) of more than 4,000 of its members found almost two-thirds of respondents claiming to have experienced ageism, most by being addressed in a demeaning fashion (35 per cent) or being made the butt of a joke (29 per cent).