The recent Denver Post article (Wednesday, Aug, 7, p. 13A) on Americans preferred desire to live to 90 has me scratching my head. According to this Pew Research Center longevity study and the prospect of a "fountain of youth" (scientific goal) to get us to at least 120 years, most Americans aren't totally buying. That's good because it is pure poppycock to talk about any such life extension until the problem of Alzheimer's dementia is solved. Right now, as Susan Jacoby notes in her book 'Never Say Die', on aging in America, the rate of Alzheimer's DOUBLES every five years past the age of 65. Is that a form of age roulette you really want to play?
That means any person who does manage to live until 120 will likely have this horrific disease which in its ultimate form, "turns you into a living cabbage". Right now, as Jacoby points out, the extent of Alzheimer's research is stuck on neutral in terms of reducing those neuron-destroying tangles and beta amyloids. The degree of care basically halts at palliative. Jacoby documents that nearly all the so-called measures and meds used to try to control its progress (such as displayed in HBO's 'The Alzheimer's Project) , don't really help.
Yet Americans, true to their delusional pie-eyed optimism, somehow believe in dramatic exceptionalism. That in fact they will not be brought down by a disease that took out one of the greatest minds in history, Isaac Newton.
According to the DenPost article:
"Pew took the public's pulse and found that most Americans wouldn't want a treatment that would let them live to 120. Fifty-six percent said 'No thanks' - although two -thirds expected that most other people would want to try such a step, said the report issued Tuesday."
That perception is downright frightening and weird, given that current financial -retirement information collected from diverse sources on Americans' saving shows barely anyone has enough moola to survive to such a ripe age via self-support. According to a recent report issued by the National Pension Rights Council, the median amount a family nearing retirement has saved for their post-work lives is a measly $12,000. As for the magical 401(k)? If a household where the earners are between the ages of 55-64 does have a retirement account, they barely hit the six-figure mark at $100,000—a far cry from $1 million we’re told we need.
Even if these people somehow managed to find a company that'd hire them to work at least until 90 or so, it's still doubtful they'd amass enough. Given increased health care costs, the fastest rising aspect of the national budget - and no end in sight - most people would probably need to at least win a state lotto of ten million to be able to live to 120 without being in penury. (Fortunately, 51% in the survey said that living to 120 would be bad to society. Well Duh! Given Social Security and Medicare are already under attack.)
In any case, "few expect such a radical idea to become reality, at least by 2050", although most expected "more gradual medical advances could extend life expectancy".
Well, let's see: By 2050 at the rate the ice caps are melting and global temperatures increasing, we are very likely to be in the maw of the runaway greenhouse effect. Blistering heat that will make the recent heat waves look like a walk in the park, power grids crashing from over use, storms of such magnitude no one can now imagine their ferocity, floods that will drown whole towns and cities, invasions of insect, parasite vectors with exotic diseases not seen for a long time, including schistosomiasis, cholera, dengue fever, malaria. DO people really want to live with that shit? I don't.
Thankfully, the same 51% who said living to 120 would be bad for society also add in the obvious threat to natural resources, given you're going to have 9-10 billion people on this little orb as it is, then add increasingly more numbers because of life extension? It's nuts! But in reality, 2050 will - for example - likely see mass loss of life from multiple mammoth natural catastrophes the worst of which is the runaway greenhouse.
What's the ideal life span? To most Americans, according to the Pew study, it's between 79 and 100. The median answer reported was 90, Pew reported. But those who gave those results may have failed to process that only 14% of those over 90 are free of Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia. That's not a terribly promising stat. It means the odds of you're being a person needing serious care soar and you'd better have a ton of money (for a nursing home) or, alternatively, a loving -caring family to assume the burden of care or pay for the care.
The Post piece does note that "given concern about the growth of Alzheimer's disease and an overburdened Medicare system, caution about the idea of one day living longer may not be surprising."
But longevity researcher Cynthia Kenyon of the University of California - San Francisco (where I received my prostate cancer treatment) "wonders whether the public understands the real goal of this research which is better health."
In other words, if the extension is predicated on better health then peerless aging in good form ought not be a problem To quote Kenyon: "It would be the equivalent of a 90 year old person looking like a 45 year old."
Maybe, but the Alzheimer's problem remains, given that as Jacoby shows (op. cit.) no research has found anything that positively works to stave off Alzheimer's, whether a vegetarian diet, special supplements, or doing 1,000 Sudoku puzzles a week - or working out 100 differential equations. Many think they know, or have the magic formula, but no one really does. So again, until the Alzheimer's issue is first resolved, and yes - it could be as part of a health first paradigm, it is useless to try to push life extension significantly beyond what it is.
Again, the other point is no matter how healthy these advanced people are, what kind of economy can support them? We already have tens of millions of Millennials - new college grads- who can't find work because many seniors are still working either from having not saved enough (after being down sized) or to pay for added health care costs. So now you're going to add tens of millions MORE healthy elders to the work force which, as it is, can barely grow 200,000 jobs a month? This is perhaps 25% above the population replacement level when you'd really need to have at least some 500,000 jobs added over population replacement level! But given the structural infirmities of our Neoliberal market economy, which sees workers as added liabilities- costs, that ain't gonna happen!
The idea portends a rolling demographic and economic disaster for the young - who will either have to fight for an even fewer pool of jobs, most of which won't pay duck squat, or help support these added advanced age healthy elders - say if they themselves don't have jobs.
In any case, from where I sit, radical life extension even in a 'healthy mode' is a fool's errand. Besides, we have too many other pressing problems and issues to turn our resources, minds and energy, as opposed to increasing the human population even further beyond carrying capacity!