0710-Cycles Of Life: Old Age

Background reading material by Professor Omar Hasan Kasule Sr. for Year 1 Semester 1 PPSD session on Wednesday 17th October 2007


Ageing is a natural process. It is a long and variable process with much individual variation. Genetic, social, dietary, and disease factors determine the rate and extent of ageing. Old age has physical, social, and religious dimensions. Old age is associated with degeneration and decreased or deranged physiological function. It is not true that old age is illness. A practical definition of disease in the elderly must distinguish between the normal changes of aging and pathological conditions. Old age represents the close of the family cycle. It is also the period of maximum wisdom. The age of 60 is generally taken to be the start of old age. The proportion of the elderly in most human populations is increasing due to general socio-economic improvement and medical technology. The life span of each individual is fixed by Allah. No human effort or endeavor will alter the span. Longevity has always been a desirable objective of humans of all ages and all places. Longer life has advantages. There is more to contribute to society, to do good deeds to expiate for past failures. However the physical disabilities of old age reach a point when they outweigh the psychological and social advantages.



The capacity for cell division declines with age. The reasons for this loss of division capacity are not known but it seems to be part of genetic programming. With age the following phenomena increase and their cumulative effects lead to ageing or death of the cell: the cumulation of somatic mutations, error rates in protein synthesis, and failure of error-correcting mechanisms. The increase in these phenomena is due to cumulative environmental insults and decreasing ability of the aging body mechanisms to correct the errors. Aging, degeneration, and eventual death can be explained at the cellular level. Aging in accompanied by physical, psychological and social changes as well as challenges. There is no point in time when development ceases and degeneration starts. The two processes are contemporaneous. In advanced age degeneration becomes predominant. Normal aging is a gradual process of physical decline and degeneration. Aging affects the structure and function of all organs. Old age because of its multiple incapacities is sometimes not a pleasant period. Physical decline starts from the age of 30. There is functional decline in the performance of all organs of the body. The difference between the normal physiology of ageing and pathology is very fine. As people age, the quality of their life deteriorates. The elderly are dependent but very important members of society whose rights must be respected. It is a grave sin to neglect these rights.



A person is psychologically as old as he feels. An elderly person may feel young. The prophet mentioned that people stay young in 2 ways: love of the world and long hopes. Old age in unpleasant for several reasons. Physical incapacities reduce independence. Accumulated negative life experiences with no hope of returning and doing things again. Materialistic societies do not respect elders because it is felt that they are unproductive and are a burden on society. This is a major transgression. They were productive at a time and the new generation was at that time dependent children. Mistreatment of parents is a major sin. This covers parents of others. If you mistreat someone’s parent someone else may mistreat your parents. The prophet spoke a lot about recognizing and respecting the rights of the elderly. The elderly have a legal right of physical support by their offspring. The offspring must bear with patience any annoying demands from their parents.




Medical science has set itself an unrealistic objective of preventing aging. Research is carried out on causes of cellular aging and the effect of nutrition. The process of aging is one of the Creator’s laws. It cannot be prevented but it can be made more pleasant such that growing old does not mean pain and suffering. The efforts of scientists should rather be directed to ensuring good physical health in old age.



Listing the disorders of old age is like making a catalog of all subjects in the textbook of pathology. Anything that can go wrong is found to be wrong in the elderly because of their decreased ability to cope with environmental insults.

Professor Omar Hasan Kasule, Sr. October, 2007