Crawling off to die?

Many animals will seek a secluded place to pass on from this life, which indicates a possible foreknowledge that their time has come.  Amazingly, many elderly people have an urge to leave where they are and to wander about in confusion.  This was a prime way to get killed for our ancient ancestors, as many predators, some of them animals, would attack a dazed, elderly person.  Dogs, raccoons, rats, and many other carnivores have been known to attack infants and elderly people.

What I am about to say seems off the wall, and very morbid, but I believe that there is some evidence that this widespread ‘disorder’ in elderly people is a survival trait of the race, not of the individual.  Extremely old people are a difficult burden on a small tribal group, because compassion will force the others to help provide for them, as well as to care for them, cleaning them up, feeding them, cleaning them up, putting them to bed, cleaning them up… well, you get the picture.

Commonly, elderly people talk of ‘wanting to go home,’ even when they may be living in the only home that they have ever known.  Wandering out on a January night in much of the Northern Hemisphere is going to be a quick way of solving the problem, because hypothermia will take the very elderly in short time spans.  Perhaps, on some deep level that is beyond expression with words, elderly people don’t want to be a burden on the ones that they love anymore, and decide that it is time to go ‘home’, back into the pool of Life.

I can imagine that everyone would always put themselves at risk by flying out into the night, the woods, the snow, to look for that loved one who had wandered off, but I would bet that many times the person was not found in time, or even for a few days.  So the living are hesitant to put themselves at great risk for someone who is about to pass on anyway.  All of this means that when the spark of life is dim and flickering, when every thing takes somebody to help, when the pain won’t go away, there was a way to end it.

This seems so contrary to our instincts, which goad us to keep on struggling, to believe in the future, to know that things can get better.  But we will not survive forever, and somehow, some of us know that the way to get home is to leave where we are.  When people display a trait over a broad range of cultures, geographic area, and ethnicity, you can bet that that trait is something that has been bred into our genes.  It is called evolution, and it selects for survival traits which express themselves over thousands of years.

Crawling off to die may be a survival trait, similar to jumping into a river to save a child.  Removing a burden which will not go away without loss can be a means of  increasing the chances that the descendants will survive.  What is considered ‘dementia’ may be ‘instinct’ instead.  Decoupling the urge to survive from our actions requires extreme measures, so fogging the thinking might be the way that evolution has made it possible for the elderly to wander off to help the children while they look for home.  It is not lying down and dying, or throwing yourself into a butter churn, but it is a way to possibly shorten your life.

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