The Fourth Age begins at about 80 years

An ancient Greek myth of Eos (in Roman, Aurora, or Goddess of the Dawn) captures a dilemma that still faces us today. Eos falls in love with Tithonus, a mortal man, and laments that while she will live forever, he is doomed to die. She asks Zeus to grant Tithonus immortality. But she fails to ask in addition that Tithonus remain eternally youthful.

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Eos, Tithonus, and the Elderly

Tithonus, gifted with immortality, is doomed to grow old but never die. His body becomes brittle with age, his mind deteriorates, and his speech becomes babbling. Eos is devastated by his loss of youth and strength and sense, and though she is not longer attracted physically to him she does not abandon him.

Instead according to one version of the story she transforms him into a cicada so that no one will fault his mindless chirping or fragile body and confines him into a separate chamber where he lives out his life out of sight.

Like Eos in the myth, some scholars now entertain the prospect of an indeterminate, if not ‘limitless,’ human life span. But should this dream become a reality, still other students of aging foresee a growing number of Tithonuses–very old and frail people, bereft of mind, body, and human dignity.

So yes we are faced with the comparable dilemma today. Our Tithonus, or Tithona, although not, thankfully, immortal, has been kept alive for years during the Fourth Age, perhaps by a loving wife or husband, and confined much as was Tithonus himself into a separate chamber, which we now call the Alzheimers’ Room or Wing of the hospital.

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From TNR, September 2, 2014

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