Pope’s resignation not a surprise to gerontologists
Catholics around the world woke to startling news Monday—the Vatican announcement that Pope Benedict XVI was stepping down as leader of the largest church on the planet, effective Feb. 28, 2013.
The pontiff, 85, is the first pope to resign willingly in nearly 600 years. According to a statement from the Vatican, Pope Benedict said in order to govern, “both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”
Many wondered if there was more to the situation—if, perhaps, the pope was affected by a health concern undisclosed by the Vatican. However, those who understand the physiological challenges of aging were not surprised by the announcement.
Dr. Birinder Marwah, chief of geriatric medicine at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center says the demands of heading such a large organization would be challenging enough for a young person but especially tough for an octogenarian.
“With the expectations of traveling the world, juggling multiple schedules, pleasing many people. It’s a very, very demanding job,” said Dr.Marwah. “For a man who is 85 years old, I don’t think this resignation is surprising at all.”
Dr. Marwah adds that the aging brain can decline dramatically at this stage of life.
“In a person of that age, the brain definitely slows down,” he says. “The person may have difficulty creating and retrieving memories. Also, the quality and quantity of sleep is affected, which affects brain and body function.”
Other normal aging concerns might include:
- Deterioration of eyesight, though there are many treatments available in this day and age
- Leg and arm pain—stiffness, wear and tear on the joints, the inability to sit in one position for any length of time
- Hearing issues and difficulty in understanding what is being said. Listening requires more concentration and focus, adding to mental strain
- Risk of chronic disease increases, including heart disease and many types of cancer
“I’m not surprised the pope is stepping down at all at his age. He’s in a very strenuous position—not a picnic by any means. Aging is a progressive situation for us all.”
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