Monday, February 16, 2015

The next generation may have a 140-year life span; surprising facts about the biology of aging (Time Magazine issue)

The February 23, 2015 issue of Time Magazine is devoted almost entirely to promoting longevity and delaying aging, and has a cover that says “This baby could live to 142 years old: dispatches from the frontiers of longevity.”  The principle article may be “Age Disrupters” by Alice Park. The online version is called “The New Age of Much Older Age”, link here (pay wall).  The issue explains well how longevity has steadily increased with medical technology since the 19th Century.
One of the main advances is manipulation of a gene called mTOR, which affects how cells manage energy.  There is an antibiotic called rapamycin which seems to manipulate these genes (and the mechanics of telomeres which limit cell growth) in order to postpone the action of “free radicals” and resulting  “tissue death” as Dr. Phil used to call it.

There is an article “Stretch Your Timeline” by Mandy Oaklander, which shows how quickly various tissues age. 
There are many interesting facts.  You don’t notice it, but after age 50 you need more water than your thirst tells you to keep your kidneys working right.  Heart disease typically starts at around 65 but may be indolent for years or decades in some people.  After age 70, on average, brain function starts to deteriorate, but use (whether chess, music, any manipulation of content) that preserves memory, as well as social interaction, surely helps delay loss of function (but maybe we would all get Alzheimer’s if we lived long enough). A rather surprising observation, which I think is probably overstated, is that collagen and elastin in the skin decline at 1% a year after age 18.  That may account for baldness (even of the legs), lines, and more weathered appearance.  Overexposure to ultraviolet light may be a factor.  Strength and endurance (and intellectual power) seems to peak from ages 24-28 (just after the brain is “fully grown”), something that matters a lot particularly in professional sports.  The “skin” deterioration may be extremely variable and more heavily influenced by both genetics and environmental toxins than many of the other issues.  (Ever wonder how some people in their 40s look so young, like actor Gabriel Mann playing Nolan on “Revenge”.  Genetics, and being lean and even “quirky” seem to help.)
Longevity, however, is catching society right now by surprise.  When I was in my eldercare situation, I could not afford to adopt an artificial goal, like seeing my mother live past 100 (she made it to 97, when I was already 67) just to please others.  

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Reverse mortgages can backfire if younger surviving spouses or inheriting adult children don't have enough cash

Michelle Singletary has a sobering article on reverse mortgages, on p A14 of the Washington Post on Wednesday, February 11, 2015, link here. The hooker is that, because older seniors are typically allowed to take out more cash out of their equity (scaled to age), a younger surviving spouse might be faced with substantial repayment, possibly without enough cash in the estate or her own accounts.  The problem could now occur in some states with same-sex couples who might not be as familiar with “married life” rules.  It may also occur was adult children or other relatives inherit the house or live in it.
It’s important to check on the rules with your financial institution or with an eldercare attorney.  In some cases, it is advisable to put the house in a trust instead, but you can’t do both at the same time (put in trust and take out a reverse mortgage).  It looks as though this problem had also been covered Dec, 5, 2012. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Income inequality can accelerate coming deficit in Social Security

Michael A. Fletcher has an interesting perspective, “How growing income inequality is hurting Social Security”, on p. A14 of The Washington Post Wednesday morning, link here. Michelle Singletary tweeted the story this morning. 
As more wealth is accrued by high earners while middle class workers don’t get good raises, the income subject to FICA tax doesn’t grow, so FICA tax receipts don’t increase sufficiently to match outlays for existing retirees.
Again, the old debate continues.  In practice, people in my situation experience Social Security as an “annuity”, since it reasonably matches what I paid into it.  But it doesn’t for everyone, and legally it’s still “welfare” according to Flemming v. Nestor.  As we’ve seen in previous debates (in 2011 and then 2013) over the debt ceiling, probably the mechanics of the Social Security Trust Fund would protect it in case of a pseudo-default, but it’s not entirely clear.  

Sunday, February 01, 2015

NY Times piece argues that end-of-life comfort care needs to improve drastically

An “Opinionator” column in the New York Times Sunday maintains “Dying shouldn’t be so brutal”, link here
My father, who died on New Year’s Day 1986, of explosive prostate cancer, just before an 83rd birthday, had been ill only four weeks.  He had been productive and able to do what he wanted almost until the very end, when he died suddenly during a "seizure".  My mother had coronary bypass surgery at age 85 in 1999 and started decline in 2007, and spent the last four days in a virtual coma in hospice, passing away at 97 in December 2010.
But the measures available to alleviate discomfort were considerable.  During the last hours or even days of life, sometimes the person cannot even swallow, but medications relieve that. 
But one of the biggest problems is that we feel we must prolong life because now we can.  When I was growing up in the 1950s, we couldn’t, and ignorance seems to have been bliss in retrospect.