February 4th, 2010


Old age is in the mind. Well, partly so. The thing that'll stay with me from the programme about ageing I watched last night is the account of an experiment that was conducted in 1979, in which a group of old men were put in a house where everything was set up for them as if it were 1959. The furnishings were from that era, so were the books and magazines- and if they turned on the radio or TV what they got was 1950s programming. Carers were banished and the old chaps were treated as if they were 20 years younger- with no allowances made for their frailties. They looked after themselves, prepared their own meals- and if they wanted anything fetched and carried they fetched and carried it themselves. By the end of a week they were all fitter and healthier than they'd been when they entered the house- one chap had discarded his walking stick- and over half of them were recording higher scores in IQ tests. Even more extraordinarily, in several cases their eyesight had measurably improved.

Old age is something we slip into, willingly. Our understanding friends and relatives make allowances for us being weaker and duller- and we seize the opportunity with both hands because, after all, there's a definite up-side to being babied and indulged. But we can resist- and- if we do- there's the real likelihood that we'll keep our edge.