In respecting our elders and treating them justly, there is future security and peace of mind. If we make the effort to look after our elders and parents, rest assured that we will ourselves be the recipient of some sincere TLC in the future.
Respecting our elders and those senior to us in age and experience is an uncommon find today. By giving respect where it is due to our parents, grandparents, relatives and others who deserve it, a believer is scoring brownie points for fulfilling this religious obligation. We are well informed on the merits of this deed and the dangers of what awaits those who arrogantly disregard their elder or misbehave with them. The incident of a paralyzed youth learning about the merits of reciting Dua Mashlool when he disobeyed his father is among others a clear warning for all of us to pay heed to. Here we explore the science and physiology behind why Islam commands us to obey our parents and elders with respect.
Without getting too technical, we can define aging as the decrease in functional reserve capacity (tissue/biochemical/cellular reserve available at times of stress) of all organ systems as a function of time. As cells are lost in an organ, its capacity to function is decreased, initially manifesting as an inability to sustain high level function until degenerating to the point where normal functioning cannot be sustained. Hopefully all systems will age at the same rate.
Central Nervous System Changes
A decrease in neural cells leads to an overall decrease in sensory and motor function. Cranial nerves capacities are reduced, leading to decreased hearing, sight, smell, and balance, along with similar sensory changes in the skin, which leads to cognitive impairment, speech difficulties, and memory problems such as Alzheimer’s disease. This is crucial, since a number of cases have been reported where (God forbid) parents leave in the morning and fail to return as a consequence of memory loss and having forgotten where they live. It sounds scary, and we all dread something like this.
Blood vessels become harder with a decrease in compliance and elasticity, leading to an increase in systolic blood pressure. There is also a decrease in the contractility and compliance of the muscle of the heart, making it difficult to increase cardiac output through increasing stroke volume. There is also often atrial fibrillation and dysfunction. Part of the aging process is a loss of capillary branches which can be very detrimental to organs that rely upon end arteries for blood supply (i.e. brain, kidney, etc.).
Postural changes and decrease in muscle strength make ventilation difficult. This is confounded by the fact that the rib cage is stiffened (with a loss of joint elasticity) and decrease in the elasticity of the lung. A decrease in the amount of pulmonary capillaries leads to decreased oxygen exchange, with each breath making breathing difficult with age.
The elderly (especially females and those on long term steroids) experience a general decrease in bone density that can become critical to the point where fracture is a possibility with minimal trauma. As muscle bulk and strength is decreased, most elderly have a stooped-over posture that increases the chance of falls (and fracture leading to a decreased chance of survival). Elderly patients tend to experience osteoarthritis in many joints as a result of the decades of damage.
Liver, GIT, and Kidneys
There is a general decrease in liver and kidney function with aging. This is important as many elderly patients are maintained on multiple medications that compete for metabolic resources. There is often incontinence due to a weakening of the bladder mechanism. As there is a reduction in secretions and GIT function, there is reduced digestion and nutritional absorption. As a result, the foods that the elderly consume must be energy and nutrient dense.
There is overall a reduction in the number of cells being produced with a decrease in immune function and increase in infection. Infection tends to predispose to microthrombi and periodontal disease. Elderly patients who are on aspirin and coupled with their anaemia tend to have bleeding tendencies and decreased oxygen carrying capacity. As there is a general dampening down of immunity and cell function, many pains and problems present differently with often vague symptoms (no inflammation).
The elderly patient often feels isolated and depressed due to loss of loved ones, mounting confusion, and loss of senses, mobility, and independence. These patients are often unmotivated and have difficulty with oral hygiene procedures.
The above may overwhelm us when thinking of aging; however, in respecting our elders and treating them justly, there is future security and peace of mind. If we make the effort to look after our elders and parents, rest assured that we will ourselves be the recipient of some sincere TLC in the future. So the next time we see an uncle or auntie at the mosque in need of any assistance, be it for something as simple as a glass of water or wanting some help in getting to the door, let’s promise to make the effort of racing to their side . For such quality service, not only will we become shining pupil implementing the teachings of the School of Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) to others, but we will continue to swell our heavenly account with glad tidings and much reward in the hereafter!