Living Longer or Living Better?


by msabaye

I visited a "home" as we call it in Canada. That is a place where many senior citizens are taken care of. There were people who walked about without having any idea where they were or what they were doing. Many people were incapable of controlling the wheelchairs they were confined to. A combination of mental and physical deterioration made most people in the place look and act like ghosts. It was one of the most depressing scenes I had witnessed in my life.

I recall a similar visit some years ago in Karaj to a nursing home. The exact same situation prevailed. I came out not knowing what I felt for a while. It was a very disturbing experience. 

 On both occasions, my heart went out to these people whom I kept imagining as young and active. I kept thinking what can be done for them? How can I help? Some of these cases were simple cases of aging to the point of deterioration. 

 I remember reading a paper by a world class scientist, an expert on Alzheimer, who believed that a major factor in Alzheimer occurrence was the simple yet underestimated fact of aging. Our internal control systems age and miss a few checks regardless of how well we eat or exercise or look. It is a fact of life. Just like the fact that we have to die at some point. What puzzles me is many people around me who try so hard to live longer; in fact, they make a goal and aim for living a hundred years and beyond. And I wonder, why?

No, I am not depressed or unhappy. In fact, I am quite content despite usual ups and downs that, I assume, happen to all human beings. And I take great delight in the sun, the colours of fall, the laughter of my nieces and nephews, winning $10 in Lotto (my biggest winning yet), a good meal, a beautiful outfit, a nice walk, ... But then, I am happy with having them as long as I have them, be it one or many more years.

When I think about being a hundred years old, I imagine most people around me, if not all, will be gone. What does the world mean without those I love? And then I think that, at 100, I may be lying on a bed, wired in 10 different places and not even notice it. The same way those I saw at nursing homes were. Neither possibility seems remotely attractive to me.

Then there are minor things: as a child I thought food/fruits tasted very good. But my parents told me that I hadn't tasted the tomatoes and the vegetables and whatever that they had 20 years before. And my grandmother said everything tasted like cardboard compared to her childhood. Now, I try to imagine how things would taste so many years from now. I stop imagining after a few seconds; I don't want to know.

I want to enjoy life regardless of how long I live. If it is one more week or 10 more years, it really doesn't matter to me as long as I live it the way I want. And my way is not to keep focusing for ways to extend that week or 10 years, whichever the case may be. I guess what I am trying to say is that quality of life is far more important to me than its length.     

So, I wish anyone who wants to live long a very long life with a caveat: watch what you are asking for. You may just get it.  Of course, living longer and living better may not necessarily be mutually exclusive, but in practice they often are. For myself, I am happy to live a good, fulfilling life which may not necessarily be a long one. In the meantime, I wish I could do something for those people to make their lives easier and happier. Any suggestions?


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profound and complex question

by Monda on

Dear msabaye, I can relate to some of the experiences you described, and those which perhaps cannot be put into words. I am familiar with that sad opaqueness in visiting the elderly in a group. We get hit by in some existential place of our own.

Case by case however, can be a different experience.

Research indicates that depending on where the specific person is with individual resources and the alzheimer diagnosis - a genuine caring presence or contact can be felt through subtle (or not so subtle) responses in the brain. By individual resources I mean, the elderly' personality in terms of emotional cognitive responses, background, life experiences and passions, influential relationships and their overall philosophy about living longer.

The genuine caring quality of contact can be expressed in a touch, in the voice reading favorite poet, music, sounds of the wind... It's about that particular person. And it is also about the caring people around him/her. It is just as important for the family and friends to be supportive of each other around the care for the elderly and their own self-care.

Then there is the Acceptance of what cannot be changed, and what one does with it. Back to that existential place in life...  Very intriguing blog, thank you.  

hamsade ghadimi

there's a difference

by hamsade ghadimi on

there's a difference between dementia and alzheimer (an early form of dementia as early as in the 40s).  you would need to have more information about the person before you can tell from which ailment they're suffering.  furthermore, not everyone suffers from dementia in old age.  your sample (nursing homes) is biased because in all liklihood the people who were suffereing from some kind of condition (not all) were placed in these 'homes' because they need special care (especially in iran where there's a stronger extended family support).  i would bet that the proportion of people suffering from dementia is lower at their own family homes than the nursing homes.

there's no telling how our body and mind will age; therefore, i agree with you that you better watch what you wish for, and i would add that you better hope what you wish for has a happy and fulfilling end.

emerson writes: "there are those who have nothing to live for but a will to live."  (paraphrase)


the width of life, and not its length

by comrade on



Yes, they are mutually exclusive. Even for the rich, I might add.That's why I am an advocate of
euthanasia, myself.And with the present rate of growth in the world's
population imposing a cap on the citizens' length of life might become a
spooky necessity.But that's for a distant future. For now, I
wish you, and everyone else a long, healthy, and happy life.