Do you want to grow old? Most people answer yes. A qualified yes, that is: “As long as I’ve got my health.” Long life looks attractive when it’s uncoupled from cognitive and physical decline. It’s a lot cheaper too: illness is expensive.
I’ve been steering clear of the Methuselah-minded crowd for whom the grail is the extension of the human lifespan. For one thing, the science is muddy. Secondly (and very scientifically), they give me the creeps. Thirdly, the more important question, it seems to me, is how to improve the quality of the additional 30 years of life that refrigeration and clean water have so recently delivered to us.
"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”:
It’s been chastening and illuminating to see certain preconceived notions fall by the wayside as my research progresses. An early one was the assumption that good health was a precondition for an active old age. Although I expected to encounter the occasional, extraordinary geriatric Stephen Hawking, it seemed intuitively obvious. And certainly most of the people I’ve spoken with are exceptionally healthy, remaining physically mobile as well as mentally agile. Good luck, good genes.
But many also suffer from chronic or degenerative disease — and it doesn’t keep them from their work.