Academics Seek to Pathologize the Elderly, Make "Old Age" a Disease

The way we treat our elderly is a huge reflection of how well we’re living out Catholic Social Teaching, which is why I found this article all the more alarming.

Prominent academics are pushing for the World Health Organization (WHO) to include old age on its list of diseases. They say it will improve old people’s lives – but in reality, it will give everyone the excuse to write them off.

Do you agree with the WHO? Or does the article’s author have a point?

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I know people in their 80’s who can outdo me and I’m in my mid 50’s. Age is not a set thing for everybody. Some can be active, alert and live life to the fullest until they are called home. So NO I do not agree with the WHO. I don’t trust them to help want the best for those who are aging. I do believe they want to easily and quietly write them off. Can also be said of how those with disabilities can be seen too, sadly.


Honestly academics can scare me. Don’t get me wrong there are certainly wonderful academics… however after my time in college… the pride is just so to the core, it struck me as a religion…
Thou shalt not question the wisdom of the self appointed intelligencia. The mentality removes the human dignity piece by piece and replaces it with dignity which is only deemed appropriate by those who can redefine it with intellectual and social force.

Forgive me, I don’t mean to sound cynical, but I think this is a real issue.


A person can be book smart but not have common sense or good moral values and rely totally on academic excellence. Just that particular scenario could have devastating results in life and death choices. Every life matters from conception to natural death. Jesus hung on the cross, suffered and died for all even those who deny Him.


There is a reason why George Orwell had no use for and didn’t trust intellectuals and academics. They want to impose their ideologies and fantasies on the world which is quite ok without their dangerous ideas. Stay in your ivory towers writing papers that nobody except academics in your field read and flattering yourselves with your mutual admiration society and useless and dangerous notions.


The article presents a very cynical perspective, which I would take with a large grain of salt (as I would with anything from RT).

The major impetus for classifying ageing as a disease on the WHO’s International Classifications of Diseases (ICD) system was primarily regulatory. By classifying it as a disease (in the strictest medical sense of the term), it enables targeted funding for treatment and research of ageing (in general) and age-related health problems (of which there are very many).

It might surprise many, but comparatively very little of the global GDP is allocated to researching more effective and innovative treatments for improving the experience of ageing. There’s a pervasive notion that since older people have less time (especially working years) available, there’s limited return for public investment.

Another issue is that ageing is considered an “unsexy” discipline, whether academic, public policy or medical. Nobody wants to do a PhD in gerontology (I did), no doctor wants to work in the geriatric department, and no government official wants to be tasked with the nursing home portfolio.This makes it very difficult to drum up support for ageing-related initiatives.


Maybe some academics think this is a good idea, but I am quite certain most do not. For one thing, a sizable portion of academics are old themselves, and therefore it would not be in their self-interest to think of old age as a disease. Further, those academics in the social sciences, particularly psychology and sociology, think just the opposite. They point to things such as ageism and caution against such discrimination. Finally, academics are individuals and they are human: many are far removed from the stereotyped ivory-tower mentality, but instead are just ordinary people who work for a living by teaching and deal with the issues of their students, their administrative supervisors, and their careers just like other people.


My concern is that today it’s a minor label, tomorrow when money dries up, or it becomes socially, politically, or ideologically convenient that title becomes significantly less benign. It’s now the foundation of further ideas. Once aging is considered less than innate dignity, euthanasia, neglect, financial denials, etc. are now a step away.

Orwell himself was an intellectual, an academic for a time, and a literary critic as well as a writer.


Your points are worth considering and may have some merit. I’m still skeptical as I read the rationales being cited. I poked around and found this:

Callahan and Topinkova (1998) write: “In short, not only does aging lend itself to be characterized as a disease, but the advantage of doing so is that, by rejecting the seeming fatalism of the label “natural,” it better legitimizes medical efforts to either eliminate it or get rid of those undesirable conditions associated with it.”

This is odd reasoning. Being elderly certainly puts you at increased risk for a lot of medical conditions and events. But so does being African-American, e.g. higher risk of diabetes and heart attack. We (hopefully!) wouldn’t do anything so racist as to label anybody’s ethnicity as a disease! But then, at least in our culture, ageism is a more widely accepted prejudice than racism.

Having aging recognized as a disease would stimulate grant-awarding bodies to increase funding for aging research and develop biomedical procedures to slow the aging process (Kelland, 2010).

It’s true that life expectancy in the U.S. is decreasing. But shouldn’t we be trying to figure out why rather than pumping research money and health care spending into "biomedical procedures?*

Indeed, Engelhardt states that calling something a disease involves the commitment to medical intervention (Engelhardt, 1975).

Medical intervention for aging?

Furthermore, having a condition recognized as a disease is important to have treatment refunded by health insurance providers

Ah yes! “Science” hard at work here! :roll_eyes:

I don’t think anything could make this topic “sexy,” but certainly living in a death-denying culture doesn’t help matters.

In my opinion: you always or almost always have to give the devil his due. Even the most severely warped ideas and ideologies have some grains of truth thrown in them.

Old age does come with ailments and issues, and it is useful to be mindful of these things, but I agree with you that we have to be careful not to pathologize everything to such an extent that we become defined by a condition. We need to use prudence in this to find the right balance.

On the pragmatic end: the biggest problem I see with calling old age a disease is that biological age and chronological age can be vastly different and the whole point of disease is treating biological symptoms, whether they are viral, bacterial, genetic, environmental, etc.


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Some of the sociological theorising around “ageing as a disease” posits some future utopia where we can stave off mortality forever, but my interactions with ageing researchers in medicine leave me with the impression that their efforts are largely rooted in reality: better understanding the biomedical progression of senescence (e.g. variations in cell biochemistry), identifying linkages with detrimental health conditions (such as Alzheimers) and developing targeted treatments.

Oh I will readily shake hands with you on finding the cause of and/or cure for Alzheimers! Like all dementia, this disease is absolutely devastating!

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I think it would depend on what they do.
The Catholic Church makes allowances for old age in the rules of fasting and abstinence. Canon Law also allows for the elderly to receive the anointing of the sick for the elderly also.

Nothing new.
Have you ever heard the saying ‘senectus ipsa est morbus’?

The fact that RT decided to run this opinion piece should be noted. I personally consider anything from RT to be, at best, anti-western propaganda.

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…all an effort to make healthcare affordable.

Last Sunday’s homily in my church was the difference between being smart and being wise.

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Specifically how is opposition to considering the pathologizing old age “anti-Western propaganda?” Am I under some patriotic obligation to disagree with this op/ed?

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What terrifies me is what the WHO might see as the cure for ‘old age’.

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