Embracing those 20 bonus years? How about 50 bonus years?!

Pretty well exactly a year ago (seems like a lifetime ago), I wrote a blog post called “Embracing those twenty bonus years“.  I’ve borrowed the same cartoon for this post because its message seems to say it all; at some point our bodies age.  That’s just the way it is.  Unless. Unless the scientists – true believers – who have recently published books about their research on aging really are onto something. They are convinced that aging is really a disease that can be treated, in other words that aging is curable!  But, I have to ask myself, if a large proportion of the population is going to reach, say, 120 or how about 150, is this really what we want?

Welcome to the world of the biology of aging – biogerontology.  I encourage you to read about their work in these entertaining reviews of their books, Andrew Steele’s Ageless: The New Science of Getting Older Without Getting Old and David Sinclair’s Lifespan: Why We Age and Why We Don’t Have To, or go further and read the books. (Feel free to borrow our copy of Sinclair’s Lifespan.)  The theory shared by both these authors is that the aging process we’re all so familiar with can be treated as just another disease looking for a cure.  And a cure is what they are working on.  Before you get your hopes up – or perhaps your fears, the idea isn’t that death is taken out of the equation.  But – and it’s a big but – the hope on the part of these scientists is that “old age” will become a healthier and far longer one, predicated on the idea that new treatments will slow down or virtually eliminate the aging process, thereby keeping the typical diseases of old age at bay.

I will leave the details of their theories and research work to you as your homework assignment.  Let’s skip ahead to thinking about what a world might look like if people could live fruitful lives well into their 100s, increasing the number of years people can live purposeful, healthy active lives by decades.

A few things come to mind with respect to this intriguing scenario.  One is that when I was in my 30s, 40s, and 50s it never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t have the same amount of energy and focus I had then when I got to my 70s.  What would change?!  Hmm, now that I can speak from experience, it turns out that things do change.  So, as these in-the-prime-of-their-lives researchers envision extending the population’s life expectancy by decades, I just hope they take the changes in aging for even the healthiest of oldsters into consideration.

Many questions popped into my head while reading about the laudable goals of these researchers.  Maybe you have a few of your own.

  • Will people be able to work until they’re 100 and then retire?
  • More importantly, will they have to work until they’re 100 because they can’t afford not to? Oh, please say no!
  • Will our economies be able to generate employment opportunities for young people as older people keep their jobs for 20-30 additional years? Maybe more?? This is already a challenge as people increasingly work well past 65.  It’s also already a challenge as technology replaces more and more jobs.
  • What will people do for all those extra years of healthy old age? How will they and their governments ensure they have enough money to be self-sufficient for very long post-employment years? I wouldn’t want to be a pension fund manager in this scenario.
  • How will families manage the expanding relationships of 5-6 generations instead of 2-4 generations? Most children could have 4 grandparents, 8 great-parents, and 16 great-great grandparents, maybe more.  Having such an overpowering presence of oldsters among children and young adults will result in significant changes in social dynamics.
  • Most new technical innovations come from young minds, unencumbered by the status quo. How will those critical voices of change be heard if an overwhelming percentage of the population is OLD (and set in their ways)?
  • Similarly, what political change would be possible if the overwhelming proportion of voters were OLD (and set in their ways)?
  • If people will no longer develop the diseases caused by the current (natural) aging process, like heart disease and cancers, but they’re still going to die at some point far down the road after living a healthy, active life for 150 years, what will they die of? My husband suggested maybe skydiving or snowboarding will get them!

I applaud these researchers for wanting to find ways for people to be able to age with healthy hearts and minds, but I’m not at all sure how this proposed greatly extended lifespan is supposed to work.  It strikes me that there would be a lot of kinks to work out for public policy wonks, to say the least.  I’ll just stick with my naturally aging body, doing very little, slowly.  And contentedly.

Your food for thought for the day.  🙂

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57 Responses to Embracing those 20 bonus years? How about 50 bonus years?!

  1. Thanks for a fascinating post and just look at all those thoughtful comments! The live-forever movement disturbs me. But our increased life span is already having massive economic and social effects. State support for “retired” people over 65 is unsustainable, but older voters rule, for instance. As an individual I’m just so glad that we can do lots towards a making our old age happier and healthier. But where will this end?

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Rachel. I couldn’t agree more, about everything. We all want as healthy an old age as possible, but unsettling the population balance even more than is already the case rather than giving the next generations their voice and the opportunity to take the reins, innovate, and move society forward on their terms makes me extraordinarily uncomfortable. I can’t imagine that these researchers are thinking about societal challenges and public policy – unintended consequences.

  2. bionicOldGuy says:

    For me it’s more about adding “life to our years” than
    “years to our lives”. Still, it’s interesting to think about the perspective adjustment the possibly of living longer makes, as discussed in Ichi Lee’s book “I’ve Decided to Live 120 Years”. I’m 68, so if I’m going to die at 75 I’ve got 7 years left. But if I’m going to live to 100 I’ve got 32 years left, That might make a difference in my plans…

    • Jane Fritz says:

      That’s an interesting way of looking at options in life, bionicOldGuy! But surely the downside of “planning” for later life is that we have little to no control over when the times up. Or just as importantly for “planning”, how much we’ll be able to do or want to do … unless of course we’re bionic! I know that at 75 I can’t do everything I could do at 68, so I’m very glad I never put off doing what was important to me because I planned to do it later. I fully agree with your motto to add life to our years rather than years to our lives.

      • bionicOldGuy says:

        You’re right about planning it is not in our hands, as they say, when we plan, the universe laughs! But I liked it when you said “so I’m very glad I never put off doing what was important to me because I planned to do it later”. I was thinking more of that attitude.

  3. Jean says:

    I looked at this :D: “Most children could have 4 grandparents, 8 great-parents, and 16 great-great grandparents, maybe more. Having such an overpowering presence of oldsters among children and young adults will result in significant changes in social dynamics.”

    We are looking at potentially more older layers of people that expect younger generation to at least respect them. 🙂

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Lol. Maybe we need to temper our expectations on that front. Different generations have different ways of showing respect, especially these days. 😊

  4. OmniRunner says:

    Interesting post.
    You raise all of the important issues.
    People only think about how great it will to live to 120+ but no one thinks about paying for it and all of the issues everyone has already commented on.

  5. Julien B. Chiasson says:

    I wonder what longer living people will do to social progresses. Will we have more of the “if it was good for me in my youth, there’s no need to change a thing” kind of people ?

    • Jane Fritz says:

      That would be my fear. Just look at the countries being run by people who think things should be run as if it was still the 1950s, only remembering the “good times” (especially if you were white), convinced that climate change isn’t caused by humans, and that oil and gas are too big to fail (kind of like tobacco was). We always need to have new, young voices – and their energy. IMHO.

  6. K E Garland says:

    Yeah. No, thank you. lol I think I remember the other blog you posted, so my apologies if I’ve already said this, but my 94-y-o grandmother says the issues we have today (societal, feeling as if we’re regressing) is due to there being too many generations. I agree.

  7. The first cartoon is priceless. My mother is a fit energetic sharp-as 76 year old loving life even in a Pandemic…………………….unfortunately many Seniors aren’t so lucky 😦 .

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Yes, I thought that cartoon was worth a repeat! Your mother is the same vintage as we are, AS, and I’m sure our kids feel the same way about us being fit and sharp. But any of us senior citizens could tell you “youngsters” that the energy level is simply not the same as it was even 5 years ago, more less 10, 20, or 30 years ago. Lord knows what it would be like in another 50!!! 😂😂

  8. Inkplume says:

    Without having read further than your post about this topic, my first impression is that it’s messing around with nature’s laws. (Yet we now live much longer than our ancestors did and it’s called progress.) For now, I’ll stick with trying to age well with a healthy diet, exercise, sleep, etc. Thanks for the always informative read!

  9. LA says:

    Good post. I think the retirement age will need to be pushed back. If you live to a hundred, retiring at 65 seems too young, unless you have a plan.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, LA. I agree, and that’s already happening today. But it’s also already screwing things up for the young. And how long can people work productively? Until they’re 70? 75? 80? Etc! It’s intriguing to think about, but I’m not planning on volunteering for the experiment! 😏

      • LA says:

        Right? Though, I doubt you want me to go into my theory of the greatest problem we face is overpopulation

        • Jane Fritz says:

          Hmm. I’ll look forward to adding my voice to that position when you bring it up on your blog. Personally, I would put climate change, racism, inequality, greed, self-interest, and the overuse and abuse of the world’s resources by the rich countries (with unsustainably low birth rates) at the top of the list! 😊

        • LA says:

          If we didn’t have the population rising, we would have less of the other problems. We don’t have enough of anything, jobs, resources, water, to keep up with the population expanding. But I’m never going to write that blog. Dan brown and the avengers told the story better than I could, though they put the Hollywood endings to both. Everyone is still waiting for Ironman to snap…

        • Jane Fritz says:

          Except that most wealthy nations’ populations are not rising, especially not without immigration. And that includes the US. Canada’s got a very aggressive immigration policy precisely to increase population so that we have enough young people for the jobs. All of the populations in the wealthy countries are aging rapidly as the birth rates fall. The issues are complex. I will miss your blog post on this topic! 😏

        • LA says:

          One day maybe.

        • I hope you write it too. Yes, too many people on the planet. A lower birthrate isnt the answer though, because that distorts the demographics even further: more old people, fewer young ones. It does my head in!

        • LA says:

          I just don’t think there’s enough resources. And with tech…most jobs will be automated. I went to an exhibit at the Guggenheim about urban vs rural living. It was eye opening. In twenty years something like 90% of the population will be living in 10% of the world. It’s a crazy thought

  10. Roy McCarthy says:

    I did one of those ‘When Will You Die?’ questionnaires recently – seems I only have another seven years 🙂 Anyway and speaking personally, I want to go while I’m still in decent shape.

  11. You have raised excellent questions! Also, I like how you have leaned into aging and the inevitable slowing down that occurs.

  12. Interesting as always, Jane. Personally, I think these people should be working on enhancing quality of life, not length of life. Mind you, if I live to 150, maybe I’ll manage to finish and publish all the writing projects I have on the go. On the other hand, I’m not sure I’ll care by that point. 🙂

    • Jane Fritz says:

      I love your response, Debra. I’m all for quality over quantity. Live your dash well. But you make a good point; maybe if I have another 75 years I’ll get these 14 illustrations done for this little story I’m writing for my grandchildren. I had been planning on finishing them by the end of this weekend! 😏

  13. Irina Kondratova says:

    Jane, you are an optimist:) what covid times taught me lately is that we are very very far from being able to live healthy and without pain even until 70, not mentioning the mediocre state of our healthcare that is very evident right now. Of cause it is fun to plan «what if», much more fun than thinking where we are right now:) I would certainly find what to do if given this opportunity, but only if this will be an extension with good health.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Lol. I’m not an optimist, Irina, at least not about this “we don’t have to age” scenario. It’s the dream of these young researchers, they’re the optimists! But it is intriguing to think about, if such a scenario were really possible at some point (long after I have to worry about it), which phase of your life would you like to have extended?! One very positive thing about their research is that healthcare resources presumably would be less heavily used, since nobody’s body would be aging! 😏😂

  14. bernieLynne says:

    Gosh one would have to work way longer to be able to afford all those extra years. I think I will take quality over quantity. I want to live strong and healthy until I don’t – if that makes sense. It’s definitely a thought provoking idea but we do know that our time is finite and it’s important to make the most of it. What would our faculties be like at 130?

  15. AMWatson207 says:

    Food for thought indeed! The idea of growing the human lifespan strikes me as egocentric and unnatural. We accept life spans in our pets, in our cars, in our consumer goods…but not for ourselves. The earth itself tells us death is part of life, of creation. Is it not enough to simply live that mystery? I’m with you. Let nature be natural.

  16. Interesting thoughts. It makes me think of my late father’s definition of old: when he was no longer able to drive a car. He was singularly-minded about that because for him driving meant absolute freedom. So if we can live to 150, I sure hope we have mental and physical acuity to be independent enough well into our, say, mid 130’s? 😉 – Marty

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Lol. It wears me out just thinking of living another 50-60 years! I agree with your father’s theory of quality of life being defined by freedom (or independence) and self-sufficiency, Marty, although I hadn’t thought of it in terms of driving. Other considerations: do I really want to think about what to make for dinner for that long? And cook it?! 😏

  17. heimdalco says:

    I think, as we age, we tend to think of the process on the “I” “ME” scale (I’d really like to write that third book I have a plot for on my head. I’m so hoping to be able to take that dream vacation I’ve put off for so long.). This blog entry certainly broadens the possibilities 100 fold & adds a bunch of kinks. Enjoyed the read & now I’m going back to my book in the sun room … reading quietly to the tune of my poor old bones creaking. I enjoyed this thought-provoking piece quite a lot.

  18. Lookoom says:

    I am going to start skydiving to get to 150 🙂

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