What does ‘old’ even mean?

Reina Hurwitz and her son Michael at her 90th Birthday at Southern Suburbs

A recent study done at Harvard Medical School has shown it is possible to reverse the signs of ageing in the tissues and muscles of elderly mice. 

Exciting findings have shown that various compounds aimed to trigger ancient protective circuits in the body. The race for the anti-ageing pill is just one of the consequence of the shifts that are transforming our world. Longer lifespans and declining birth-rates as fertility plummets almost everywhere outside sub-Saharan Africa, constitute the most dramatic story of our age. Shrinking ageing populations may alter the balance of power between countries, notably between the USA and China, the latter of which is growing old before it gets rich. Longevity will create multigenerational households and age-diverse workforces. The falling ration of young to old will rewrite social contracts and force us to rethink the whole notion of family. If people continue to retire when they are only three-quarters of the way throughout their lives, and if large numbers are crippled with chronic diseases the burden will become unbearable.

However it doesn’t have to be this way. Many retirees are going back to work. Almost without noticing, an extended middle age has been created. The ‘Young-Old’ are very active, healthy and productive — totally different to 30 years ago. ‘Young-Old’ is now 60-75 and the WHO defines old as 65, but gerontologists main concern is with the ‘Old-Old’, who are very different. As life expectancy increases and people maintain good health longer, society’s view of what it means to be old is changing. This is good news, if you don’t consider people old just because they have reached 65, but instead take into account how long they have left to live, then the faster the increase in life expectancy, the less ageing is actually going on. 

In the early 1970s ‘early retirement’ started to be marketed as a golden time, just when life expectancy for older people was taking off. This was in large part because of the decline of smoking, which massively reduced deaths from heart attacks and stroke. Life expectancy at 65 rose 20 times faster between 1970 and 2011 while society has not caught up and many employers remain reluctant to hire people over 50. They are often given only part time flexible jobs which inadvertently suggests that the over-50’s are somehow weaker when, in fact, they are just as good as their younger colleagues. According to the Harvard Business Review, older entrepreneurs have a much higher success rate than younger ones.

Work can confer a vital sense of purpose and social connection, On the islands of Ikaria in Greece and Okinawa in Japan, people live exceptionally long lives with low levels of stroke and dementia and they continue to be active and look after grandchildren until they die. In west communities we create bingo mornings or coffee mornings to forestall loneliness — but we forget to help people feel needed.

The value of wisdom and experience can show up in unexpected ways. In Zimbabwe, psychiatrists have realised that they are unable to provide enough mental health support of trained counsellors to work in the villages and have found that the most effective counsellors turned out to be grandmothers who have three qualities most valued —listening skills, empathy and the ability to reflect. Astonishingly, a study showed that the patients who received six one-to one-therapy sessions from the trained grandmothers had a lower incidence of depression and anxiety after six months than those who had received standard care. Older people can make excellent mentors, teachers and social workers. When there are so many societal problems to fix, why don’t we put the two together? A number of studies around the world have identified exercise as the single most powerful predictor of whether we will age well .

Lifestyle behaviours need relentless focus to narrow the gap between rich and poor as there is a life expectancy gap of 15 years between the richest and poorest people living in the USA and the richest of British, when turning 80 are only just beginning to experience the limitations that people in the poorest third have been suffering from 70. If only the rich and well-educated enjoy extended healthier lifespans, we will all be the poorer. There are a multitude of ways as how we can improve our own odds of enjoying the time we have left. Most of us would happily settle for checking out a bit later, but as fast as possible, to avoid the time spent in senescence. 

We may not be able to outwit fate altogether, but we can immeasurably improve the quality of our lives, and those of older generations, if we redefine our notion of ‘old’. In extra time, there is still everything to play for and it is up to each one of us to do so.

Diana Sochen Executive Director 

Special Events July
booking essential for all functions

Twilight Suppers 
Sea Point 16 July 5.30 Michael Bagraim
Milnerton 11 July 6.30 Beryl Eichenberger and Ryland Fisher R70 
Wynberg 17 July 5.30 Beryl Eichenberger and Ryland Fisher R60 

Southern Suburbs 1 July Norvall Gallery
11 July Rupert Museum
15 July Maritime Museum
29 July Kaplan Centre
Milnerton 9 July Boere Sjiek
23 July Kaplan Centre
30 July Maritime Museum
Sea Point 10 July Boere Sjiek
17 July Zeitz Museum
24 July Kaplan Centre
31 July Rust en Vrede
West Coast 2 July Rupert Museum

Men’s Schmooze
Milnerton 5 July 10.30am Con Travers
Wynberg 10 July 10am Con Travers
Sea Point 25 July 10.30am Tiny Jones 

Shabbat Supper 
Sea Point 5 July Booking Essential


Ida Surovsky — great granddaughter

Becky Joffe  — grandson
Ruth Katzeff — granddaughter 
Alan and Silvana Silverman — granddaughter
Bella Silverman — great granddaughter 

Anita Stoch — grandson

Reina Hurwitz 90
Charles Sacks 80
Bernard Saven 70
Ida Surovsky 85

We extend our sincere best wishes to our members who have not been well
Miriam Dick

We extend our sincere condolences to our members those who have lost family members:
Hajiera Safidien-Maloon — brother
Janice Ospovat-Burman — husband

We welcome New Members to the CJSA family:
Alyson Franco, Michelle and Godfrey Shev, David Whitelaw

Condolences to the families of our members who have passed away:
Morris Baskir, Pessie Maesroch


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