16 APRIL 1932, Page 25

Is Old Age Inevitable ?

Sus 111;b1PLIRY ROLLEST025 is in the true line of the great scholar-physicians, a well-defined genus, of which his pre- decessor in the Chair of Physics at Cambridge, Sir Thomas Clifford Allbutt, was a typical representative. In this book, which is an enlargement, developed out of all recognition, of the Liniseie Lectuie delivered by Sir Hitinphry in 1922, he dis- cusses the phenomena of old age; and reviews, with a wealth of detail, and an abundance of reference to the writings of ancient and contemporary speculators, the many theories that have from time to Hine been advaiiceI as to the nature, the cause, and the possible postponement Of senescence. A number of interesting and, to all of us, very important questions arise out of the contemplation of old age and of relative longevity. Is old .age pathological or physiological ? Are its typical manifestations due to inescapable limitations in the fundamental make-up of living creatures ; or are they the results of repeated errors in our ways of life, susceptible of avoidance or correction ? Are the causes, whatever they be, such as we may neutralize or balanm with increased knowledge of intimate physiology, as we deal with cretinism and myxoedema by means of extracts of thyroid gland ? Such questions might be multi- plied. The fact remains that in our experience even the healthiest of us, no matter what his inheritance, no matter hOW wise his method of life, does not, in fact, live -for much longer than a century ;and, as we look down the ranks of all living things, we find everywhere a parallel time-limit to the earthly existence of each individual. This, suspicious fart, bough it be, does not negative the speculations of those scien- I ifie dreamers who have conceived the possibility of wresting from the gods the secret of life, as Prometheus did that

The phenomena of adolescence and the menopause suggest that those of what may be called healthy senescence are directly associated with the balance of the secretions of the endocrine glands. If such be the main factor, postponement of old age may well he attainable with a further advance in physiological knowledge and laboratory technique. The dramatic successes claimed by the apostles of Voronoff's grafting operations, however, are by no means universally accepted as real—.at any rate, so far as man is concerned. Quite apart from these problems of structure and- physiology, it is certain that a psychological factor plays an important part. inn the hastening of vital dissolution. " Want of joy in life engenders carelessness, neglect of personal hygiene, and loss of the power to react to the environment. As the years advance and the younger generation come up, the suggestion that ' his day is done,' that be has had his innings and that it is time for him to step aside, is made to the senior not only by his family and his juniors but by himself ; and he may their, after the modern fashion, get into the habit of repeating mentally, 'I am getting older and older every (lay.'" There is a good deal to be said for Lord Rhondda's notion that out age is just a contagious disease.

Those who would like to read in concise form what has been thought by doctors and other students about old age and its many infirmities of body and mind may safely be referred to Sir Illimphry Rolleston's well-documented work.