Sharp mind will save you senility in old age

Wednesday November 17 2021
New Content Item (1)

Cropped view of woman touching the shoulder of elderly husband. FILE PHOTO | NMG

By Business Daily Africa

Question: Is senility a mandatory condition in old age? Is there a way one can avoid going through it?


Senility is the most important subject of discussion in Kenya for a number of medical, legal and economic reasons. It simply means that one is growing older and showing the age. For this reason, one cannot avoid these changes. It is not the same as dementia, though some old people have it.

The medical needs of the elderly, go up rapidly after the age of 60, and taking care of aged parents often proves to be a major challenge to many. The fact that many Kenyans live in urban areas, means that elderly people live on their own in the rural areas.

When they fall ill, they cause much disruption to their children in cities. A recent crisis arose when an elderly woman refused to use the toilet that her son-in-law had been to because, in her culture, it was taboo.

Another reality is that as the body gets older, its way of responding to treatment is different from that of a younger one. A specialist in the care of the elderly may have to be involved in the care of older persons. Geriatrics is the name of this branch of medicine.


Legal issues in the elderly are on the rise and often involve courts when an older person is challenged in the management of his estate. In a recent case, a man was taken to court by his sons, because he had decided to distribute his estate to people that the sons described as strangers.

The man had a young wife, following the death of his first, and he wanted her to own some of his assets before he died because he did not want any problems after his demise. The wife had looked after him well in the evening of his life and in his opinion, she deserved the rewards of her hard work.

The sons argued that the new wife was exploiting her proximity to their elderly father for selfish gain, pointing out that he was showing signs of senility and that the choices he had made in the matter were the result and evidence of poor judgement.

When the old man was examined by the medical experts, he was indeed in frail physical health, but the medical experts held the view that his capacity to make decisions regarding the disposal of his assets was intact and could not be questioned by anyone.

The number of those aged over 65 in Kenya is about two per cent of the total population. With regard to your question, this is the group at the risk of senility and who are mostly retired and in need of care either by the State or by their families. They are net consumers of resources because they technically do not contribute to the economic activities of the country, living off their pensions.

The larger the elderly population is, the greater the challenges of medical care and pensions. In Italy for example, 23 per cent of the population is over 65 and falls in this category.

It is no wonder that so many Kenyans are finding jobs in the UK and USA looking after the elderly Some thinkers have suggested that Africa will by this process colonise the Western world, as it becomes steadily older and unable to replace itself or care for its elderly.

You have asked a question that relates to those born before 1945 (Silent/Traditional generation) and my own generation the so-called baby boomers (1945-1964). The important thing about us is that we came to the world at a time of great economic change, but we also came in very large numbers.

This is partly because the economies of the world were booming but because many people did not bear children during the war, and quickly made up for this shortage of children. This generation is now firmly in retirement and is making many demands on the world economy as they come to the age of senility.

In Kenya, the life expectancy is currently at 67 years and steadily rising. We must expect to see more people with features of senility. Such persons will show progressive difficulties in thinking and remembering, and in time, might show personality changes, confusion, apathy, withdrawal, and even depression. This is indeed your question. Can it be stopped? No, but it can be reduced.

To cut the number of people who become senile in this way, all of us must stop smoking, drink less alcohol, exercise more regularly and remain mentally active by say reading books and keeping the company of other human beings. Remember that loneliness is the new killer of the elderly.