Column: Just How Old Is ‘Old Age’ in The Future? – Southern Pines Pilot

Posted: November 8, 2020 at 2:58 am

Play like you have this decision to make: Worldwide, in developed nations, people max out on average at 80 years. If you could have your life extended 40 years beyond that, would you go for it? Simply answer yes or no, please.

Genesis 6:3 might help. My spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal, it quotes the Lord. Their days will be a hundred and twenty years. Some scientists agree that 120 is about our limit.

Some doubt there is a life limit. So, lets add a scenario: What if you could choose to live forever? You go for that?

Is either 120 or immortality even possible? Answers: yes and maybe, well see.

Its yes because Jeanne Calment of Arles, France, lived to a now verified 122 years and 164 days. Jeanne stopped smoking at 117, but never gave up her nightly port wine. She took up fencing at 80 and bicycled into her 100s. When asked on her 120th birthday what she expected from the future, she said, I expect a short one. Jeanne was born in 1875 and died in 1997.

Many scientists use Calments age as sort of a doable goal for extending life. According to Woody Allen, You can live to be 100 if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be 100. But 100 aint 120. And Woodys quip doesnt answer whether we can end The End for humans. Could other species shed light?

Some species might suggest there is no life-limit. Tortoises live to 255; an invertebrate Quahog clam clocked in at 507; Greenland shark, 512; and one bristlecone pine dubbed the Methuselah, is 4,852 years old. But according to Aging Research Reviews as reported in National Geographic, the winner is a deep-sea sponge. Age: at least 11,000 years.

So, whats up? Human age is up. This year, the United Nations expects the number of centenarians, worldwide, to exceed 573,000. For perspective, eight years ago, the United Nations estimated that there were only 316,600 living centenarians worldwide.

But beyond 100, Mother Nature hits the brakes. The number of supercentenarians, those making it into the 110 club, though not known for sure, is estimated to be about 600, worldwide.

What is known is that as of Oct. 21, there were 50 supercentenarians (18 from the U.S. and 11 from Japan; 90 percent female.) The aging curve changes between 100 and 110.

According to British actuary Benjamin Gompertzs predictions, the mortality rate for adult humans roughly doubles every additional eight years. However likely you are to die in 2020, youll be twice as likely in 2028, four times as likely in 2036. The death curve goes up like that, sharply till 100.

So, while reaching 100 is still unlikely at present, if you do reach it, things begin looking up. The sharpness of Gompertzs mortality curve flattens out at about 100.

Some scientists have explained that the deceleration of the death rate beyond 100 could suggest that there is no fixed limit to the human lifespan.

Traditionally, aging has been viewed as inevitable as death. But what if age isnt inevitable, but a curable disease? What about death then?

British gerontologist Aubrey de Grey, chief science officer at a California research foundation, says aging is not unavoidable, its simply a medical problem that science can solve. While de Grey does consider life extension a health issue eliminating age-related diseases like cancer, stroke, Alzheimers, heart disease, etc. he views it from different lenses.

Treating and beating age-associated diseases has always been approached discreetly. Tackle this, tackle that. But thats precisely because aging has never been regarded as a disease. If it were, and were conquered, then age-associated diseases would no longer exist. Win-win.

David Masci, a researcher for Pew Research Center, says life extension is no longer the realm of cranks and science fiction writers. Heavy hitters are pouring serious money into tackling aging at its root.

From 1997 to 2013, Oracle co-founder billionaire Larry Ellison contributed $45 million annually to his Ellison Medical Foundation, which focuses on the aging process while simultaneously lowering and eliminating age-related diseases.

Ellison stopped contributing in 2013 because Google founded California Life Co., which seeks to reverse-engineer the biology that controls lifespan and devise interventions that enable people to lead longer and healthier lives essentially Ellisons goal.

Life extension approaches vary, from ways to eliminate decrepit (senescent) cells, to pursuing Metformin, the closest now to a drug that appears to target aging, to extrapolating from discovery that a single-gene mutation doubles the lifespan of certain roundworms.

So maybe well see. Meanwhile, remember that Lucille Ball said, The secret of staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age.

Michael Smith is a Southern Pines writer.

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Column: Just How Old Is 'Old Age' in The Future? - Southern Pines Pilot

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