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When Tithonus met corona: the COVID-19 pandemic and acute illness in the elderly
  1. Yasir Al-Rawi
  1. Dept. of Elderly Medicine, Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Basingstoke RG24 9NA, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Yasir Al-Rawi, Elderly Medicine, Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Basingstoke RG24 9NA, UK;{at}

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“Who wants to live forever?”

Fredie Mercury, 1946-1991

A difficult question but one pondered over by philosophers at various points in history. Medicine in the last half century has done more to advance this proposition than ever before. We open hearts and brains, transplant lungs and kidneys and kill cancers with ever greater precision and accuracy. Yet despite all that, can we achieve immortality? Not really.

We have achieved what Neil Skolnik aptly termed a ‘Tithonus syndrome’.1 In Greek mythology Tithonus was a Trojan prince who caught the eye of Eos, the goddess of dawn. She abducts him and asks her father Zeus, king of the gods, to grant him immortality—but forgets to request eternal youth. The consequence is handsome Tithonus continues to get old without ever dying.

People increasingly live to old age for many reasons including improved social standards, better access to medical care, higher education levels and population wide preventative measures for conditions like infectious diseases, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Although we have longer healthier lives a proportion reach old age after various procedures and medical interventions in middle age such as bypasses, stents, —ectomies, transplants and a lot …

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  • Funding The author has not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.