Most animals, from shrimp to shrews, decline swiftly after reaching sexual maturity. Humans, on the other hand, experience middle age: a several-decade plateau during which most biological systems deteriorate very little. This stage of life, argues writer and zoologist David Bainbridge in this excerpt from Middle Age: A Natural History, represents a remarkable evolutionary achievement that should gratify, not depress.
By way of swag, everyone attending last week’s five-day Columbia Journalism School Age Boom Academy on “Covering the myths and realities of aging in America” received a canvas tote packed with print hand-outs. I was struck by a juxtaposition between two that I read the first night.
"There is no brick wall." So speaketh the noted demographer and biogerontologist Jay Olshansky, referring to the fact that humans have no “death genes”, nor “aging genes” that regulate the process of making you old. He was speaking at the 2009 Age Boom Academy at the International Longevity Center, tp which director Bob Butler was kind enough to welcome me back as an alumna. Some other compelling facts from Olshansky’s talk, which was titled “The Demographic Perspective on Longevity”:
Last night I went to hear Dr. Rudi Westendorp, the head of gerontology at the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, speak at Mount Sinai about good health after 85. A slight and smiling man in a red bowtie, Westendorp was introduced by International Longevity Center director Robert Butler and opened with a zinger: “There is no biological limit to human age. Mortality is plastic, as the biologists say.”
The Knight Seminar ended almost a week ago, but I’m just beginning to digest all the information that came at me from experts in fields ranging from demography to neuroscience to end-of-life care. Here are eight quotes that struck me as particularly relevant to this project:
1. “We have gained on average 10 biological years of life since our grandparents’ era.” — Abigail Trafford, Washington Post health editor
2. “Living close to home is going to be increasingly important, to maintain business connections.” — William Frey, senior fellow, Brookings Institution