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100 is the New 50: When Life Spans Match Health Spans

By: Derek Hobson

In the past, we’ve talked extensively about the pros and cons of RoboCare. Partially because it’s a technological development that’s going to be in high demand as the Silver Tsunami crests, crashes, and needs care – and partially because there’s a juvenile in me that loves robots.

I’ll save you the trouble of reading that article right now and tell you that the primary pro is that robots could sorely supplement the ever understaffed nursing profession. It’d be a welcomed addition since, as it stands, when the baby boomers retire, there aren’t enough caregivers or senior housing communities to go around. However, the idea of robots taking over the role of humans is best left to science fiction stories and technophobes, yet people are still asking the question, “What if you didn’t need caregivers at all?”

Why Do We Age?

We need caregivers because we get old; we get sick. So what if we didn’t? What if we didn’t get old and we didn’t get sick?

Our cells are constantly replacing one another; reproducing and dying. Surely, you’ve heard the “myth” that after seven years’ time, you’re a new person: new liver, new skin, new bones… I mean, technically, the time frame for each organ is different, e.g. colon cells are completely renewed in four days whereas skin cells regenerate after 3 weeks (and this is ignoring the eyes and brain which live as long as you).

But the point, which Gregg Easterbrook chronicles in his brilliant article, is “[g]iven that every cell in a mammal’s body contains the DNA blueprint of a healthy young version of itself, why do we age at all?” (What Happens When We All Live to 100?).

The more research that’s being done, the more signs point to aging as the disease and everything else is a symptom (or consequence).

We’re Living Longer Already

Lifespans have continued to increase over the last 200 years and today people are living longer than ever. Easterbrook includes the work of James Vaupel, who purports that this is standard linear progression, i.e. as conditions, environments, and health care improves, so will our longevity.

There are more than a handful of centenarians today and it’s possible that will become the norm. Of course, a longer life span means little if our health spans remain the same. Easterbrook reviews America’s hypothetical future where seniors are still subsidized at 65 and congresspersons are pope-aged with the majority underrepresented. If we’re to live longer, our very Constitution needs to change.

This means little to a skeptic reader, but the fact is, research is being done to see how our health spans can improve – thus ensuring life spans filled with quality years.

There are numerous universities and research institutions dedicated to aging and increasing health spans., the Buck Institute is most notable since they’re completely dedicated to aging and increasing life spans. For example, they’ve been known to quintuple the life span of worms – and they continued living in good health.

“Worms, you say? Bah! What do worms have to do with people?”

I’m glad you asked, Ebenezer.

Cynthia Kenyon made a discovery in worms 20 years ago. The daf-2 and daf-16 genes in worms, when manipulated, causing the worms to live longer. The bigger discovery? That daf-16 bears a striking resemblance to the human gene, foxo3. And where should Cynthia Kenyon find herself now, but at Google’s Calico; a secretive department dedicated to aging-related research and projects.

What Can I Do Today?

Other than observe the progress of these institutions, there are some things you can do to ensure a longer, healthier life.

A Boston Medical Center professor, Thomas Perls specializes in the analysis of centenarian genomes. His conclusion (after researching Seventh-Day Adventists) was “[t]hey don’t drink or smoke, most are vegetarians, they exercise regularly even when old, and take a true weekly day of rest…” but that’s not all. Perls found that a correlation between the longevity of these seniors and their health was that they all had large social groups. Perls go on to mention with some levity, “constant interaction with other people can be annoying, but overall seems to keep us engaged with life.”

2015-02-13T23:51:45+00:00