Is Aging a Disease?

Unlike life, this flawed argument seems to have no end

Robert Roy Britt
Aha!
Published in
4 min readOct 20, 2022

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Whenever philosophers, scientists, medical professionals or futurists talk about the effects of aging, it tends to devolve into a two-sided debate over whether…

  • aging is a natural course of life that can (but does not always necessarily) contribute to illness and disability, or…
  • aging is a disease and a primary cause of other illness and disability.

Science writer Sarah Sloat dug into this age-old debate, interviewing scientists on both sides, for an article in Technology Review. Most revealing was this nugget: The World Health Organization (WHO) recently considered replacing the word for the diagnosis of “senility,” with the term “old age.” Essentially: You’re not senile. You’re just old.

Some experts argue this would only further ageism, Sloat reported:

If age alone were presumed to be a disease, that could lead to inadequate care from physicians… Rather than pinpoint exactly what’s troubling a patient, a problem could simply be dismissed as a consequence of advanced years.

From the other side, this argument, promoted by David Sinclair, a professor at Harvard Medical School:

The best way to combat ageism is to tackle aging: facing the problem head-on by devising treatments to slow its progress. ““The current view that aging is acceptable is ageism in itself.”

On becoming invisible and irrelevant

Philosophers have been arguing for thousands of years whether aging is a natural process or a disease to be cured. One thing is abundantly clear:

Image: Pexels/Edu Carvalho

At least in the United States and many other societies, aging is viewed by many individuals, subconsciously or otherwise, as a declining state of being, a wasting away that needs to be primped and padded, glossed over and smoothed out, at any ridiculous cost. At the same time, “older people” (however you might define the term) are often dismissed as largely irrelevant by younger people. (Whether one sees themselves as young or old involves a measure that shifts forward a decade or so with every 10 additional years on the planet.)

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Robert Roy Britt
Aha!
Editor for

Editor of Aha! and Wise & Well on Medium + the Writer's Guide at writersguide.substack.com. Author of Make Sleep Your Superpower: amazon.com/dp/B0BJBYFQCB