Wisdom, experience and the freedom that comes with financial security - with savings and investment over decades - are just a few of the benefits of being old, available for collection and accumulation with the passing years, should you make the modest effort to do so. The old are quite simply better at whatever they have set their mind to; time and effort can buy any form of mastery.
But being physically aged - and the death by a thousand cuts that takes place along the way - is a burden that no-one should be forced to bear. The cuts come slow over the years, and we humans, adaptable as we are, accomodate ourselves to each loss. Your arm acts up; a joint seizes; your immune system fails you; you don't remember quite so well any more; your friends die. Each new discovery of failing biology is a wealth of activities and potential crossed from your list - a change in your life that you did not choose, a closing in of the walls of the possible.
What is the natural response to a life lived within a shrinking set of walls? What good is all the wisdom and experience, what good the structure of a life carved out just the way you like, if shortly thereafter common communicable diseases, shrugged off in youth, will fell you?
The elderly are also less likely to notice they have pneumonia until it's too late. Younger patients will visit their doctor with symptoms like chills, shortness of breath, and chest pain, but elderly sufferers are often asymptomatic. This is because their immune response is already in a somewhat weakened state. For instance, younger people cough up sputum when congested, the body's natural way of clearing out the lungs. (It's unpleasant, but it is also a healthy response.) People tend to lose lung capacity as they age, which makes it harder for them to cough productively. As a result, they might build up a large amount of sputum without becoming symptomatic. Similarly, elderly patients are less likely to notice the symptoms they do have, since they're so used to feeling ill.
When left untreated, pneumonia is deadly; it's considered by the medical community to be as serious as a heart attack. After pus forms in the alveoli, it can spread to the bloodstream, the pleural cavity, or into implanted medical devices, such as a replaced valve or pacemaker.
Even if doctors do spot the disease in an elderly patient, it's often difficult to administer the necessary antibiotics. A younger person might be cured by taking azithromycin for seven to 10 days. But the ability of the kidneys and the liver to metabolize medications changes as we age: Older people are more susceptible to stomach upset and more sensitive to dosage. Many elderly people are also on a cocktail of medications for their other ailments, further vexing prescription.
Living is such a state of frailty is a torment, make no mistake. This is but a fraction of the disability and pain that being aged brings; you become ever more fragile, and chance will soon enough knock you hard enough to end your life. The young would do well to evisage themselves pitched headlong into the degree of disability suffered by the old - but we are not naturally given to look far into the future at what will come, and that is a great pity. By failing to plan ahead, failing to think about unpleasant matters in our future despite the reminders all about, we are failing to work together to ensure that our future is not limited and capped by decades of increasing torment.
We live in an age of possibility and wonder, of rapidly advancing biotechnology and nascent cures for cancer. Scientists understand enough about aging and the roots of degeneration to start on the work that will utterly remove frailty and degeneration from the human experience in decades to come. Progess in science during the years about the turn of the millennium had made clear possibilities that have been absent for the entire past history of humanity - it is both possible and plausible to build repair technologies for the biochemical wear and tear of living beings. We can work to cure aging!
How can we let the torment of being aged to frailty and suffering continue for hundreds of millions, when there is such a clear path forward to a scientific, medical solution?