When I think about ageing and old age Shakespeare’s “The Seven Ages of Man” springs to mind.
The words are spoken by Jaques, a Lord attending upon Duke Frederick in the play “As you Like It” by William Shakespeare
“And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big, manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange, eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”
Although the play was written over 400 years ago (1599 ) it still holds true today. I don’t think that the speech is intended to be depressing, rather it is a realistic account of the stages we go through in life from birth to death. Everyone worries about ageing and old age but usually in an ad hoc way. The piece describes an ordinary man (it could also encapsulate the experiences of an ordinary woman), the roles he/she plays and the differences experienced by ageing and old age. I studied the play at school but I do not profess to be an English scholar. This speech is my favourite description of ageing that I have encountered so far in literature. My experience is that literature explains difficult universal concepts that people consider hard to discuss. I find the seven ages of man (woman) to be a useful way of framing my own life. I know that I am now in the fifth stage (middle age) and that eventually I will get to the seventh stage which is the end. The fifth stage depicts a prosperous man (woman) a person of experience and wisdom. In the sixth stage the old man requires glasses and his once fat belly has gone, leaving him with a shrunken appearance. This describes older people who have lost weight through illness or lack of appetite in old age. The voice of the old man has gone shrill and he struggles for breath. Lung disease and shortness of breath are prevalent in older people towards the end of their lives.
In the final stage Shakespeare refers to “second childishness” which alludes to dependence of the person on others once again for their daily needs. This dependence is what a lot of older people fear, and because people are now living much longer than they did in 1599 and the periods of ageing and old age can be lengthy. Dementia must have been around in Shakespeare’s time too because he talks about “mere oblivion”. According to the Oxford English Dictionary oblivion means “the state of having or being forgotten”. This could mean that the older person has forgotten everything or it could mean that the older person in the fullness of their earlier life, in other words their “personhood ” has been forgotten. By this stage the old man or woman has lost their teeth, their vision and eventually they lose their life.
People often like to ignore the fact that they are ageing or they struggle with moving into the next stage of life. But ageing and old age is the same for everyone and planning ahead is key. There are different stages to ageing and old age. They include family care, homecare, nursing home care and end of life care. If you are interested in discussing how you want to manage the ageing process go to www.emerlavineldercare.ie to book a consultation today.