Friday, February 12, 2010

Time Magazine features big issue on longevity

The February 15 issue of Time Magazine features a long section on longevity. On the web, the centerpiece of the issue seems to be “Health Checkup: How to Live 100 Years: A century of life was once a rare thing, but that is changing. Science is slowly unraveling the secrets of the centenarians. “

As a whole, the issue stresses the biology of longevity, with all the lifestyle factors regarding diet (consume much less food, perhaps), exercise, minerals (especially to prevent osteoporosis), anti-oxidants, and the fact that, once pregnancy became less risky with modern medicine, women would live longer than men. It seems that the biological forces that make men “bigger and stronger” can burn them up sooner, much as bigger stars burn up sooner than smaller stars like our Sun.

In the past, PBS and ABC (with both Barbara Walters and then Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Oz) have run programs on longevity. Besides the biological factors, there are also some social ones. People with strong extended family and community ties tend to live longer – this is the experience of the “blue zones”, although there are exceptions in individual cases. Barbara Walters once introduced a 94 year old woman in New York City still working as a financial planner.

The issue also stresses that longevity is not necessarily a good thing (“be careful what you wish for”) unless the extra years are of high quality living, without frailty and cognitive decline.

Alice Park wrote the main part of the issue (“How to live to 100 years”), (web link here) and discusses a Long Life Family Study at the National Institute of Aging at NIH, with main website here.

One problem is that medicine is prolonging longevity with longer periods of disability (including Azlheimer’s) at end of life, creating new challenges for adult children (who are often fewer in number because of smaller families), both emotionally and financially. In states with filial responsibility laws, adult children can be required to support them as long as they live. Public policy has not faced this question cleanly. The extended family unit does not have the psychological meaning for many people that it did a couple of generations ago, and yet the need for it grows if longevity, especially with longer disability, increases.

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