December 10, 2010
Living Longer With More Time Sick

We are living longer but with more illness.

Increased life expectancy in the United States has not been accompanied by more years of perfect health, reveals new research published in the December issue of the Journal of Gerontology.

Indeed, a 20-year-old today can expect to live one less healthy year over his or her lifespan than a 20-year-old a decade ago, even though life expectancy has grown.

From 1970 to 2005, the probability of a 65-year-old surviving to age 85 doubled, from about a 20 percent chance to a 40 percent chance. Many researchers presumed that the same forces allowing people to live longer, including better health behaviors and medical advances, would also delay the onset of disease and allow people to spend fewer years of their lives with debilitating illness.

But new research from Eileen Crimmins, AARP Chair in Gerontology at the University of Southern California, and Hiram Beltrán-Sánchez, a postdoctoral fellow at the Andrus Gerontology Center at USC, shows that average "morbidity," or, the period of life spend with serious disease or loss of functional mobility, has actually increased in the last few decades.

The results are not surprising. Industrialized countries have rising rates of obesity, insulin resistant diabetes, and other diseases of poor diet and lifestyle.

"There is substantial evidence that we have done little to date to eliminate or delay disease while we have prevented death from diseases," Crimmins explained. "At the same time, there have been substantial increases in the incidences of certain chronic diseases, specifically, diabetes."

The process of aging is basically the process of accumulating damage to your tissue in every part of your body. Live longer and you accumulate more damage. If medicine can keep you from dying by fixing one particularly severe problem (e.g. remove an early stage cancer, fix an aorta, provide substitute hormones for a failed endocrine organ) then you just live longer so that more pieces of your body develop clinical problems.

What we need: The ability to replace aged failing tissue with younger healthier tissue. We need new parts just like cars that break down. We need stem cell therapies, replacement organs grown in vats (or even in our own bodies), and treatments that cause the most damaged cells to commit suicide and make room for healthier neighbors to replicate. We need the ability to reverse the aging process. That's coming in this century. Will it come soon enough to save most of us from death caused by old age?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 December 10 05:54 PM  Aging Population Problems

john personna said at December 14, 2010 9:27 AM:

Well, if these are lifestyle diseases we already have a lot of individual control. Put down that donut, take a walk, skip the single-malt.

In aggregate it still seems like change is the answer. There are negative externalities to living with a nation of obese.

Cackling geezer said at December 14, 2010 2:27 PM:

Just kidnap the young'uns & harvest 'em for parts in chop shops!

Brett Bellmore said at December 16, 2010 5:14 PM:

"The results are not surprising. Industrialized countries have rising rates of obesity, insulin resistant diabetes, and other diseases of poor diet and lifestyle."

I found this kind of interesting:

Apparently it's not just people who are getting fatter. Lab animals on standardized diets are getting fatter. Wild animal populations living near humans are getting fatter. It's like Poul Anderson's "Brain Wave", except with fat instead of IQ. Speculation is that it may be hormone mimicking chemicals accumulating in the environment, or perhaps some more efficient intestinal bacteria spreading across populations.

Whatever is going on, it's apparently NOT as simply as people simply eating too much, and not exercising, though that might be contributing somewhat.

kurt9 said at December 17, 2010 3:33 PM:

I think morbidity is increasing, at least in the U.S. Everytime I go shopping I see people riding around in those power chairs in the store. I see far more of this than I did 20 years ago. Obviously there is a problem that is not being effectively dealt with.

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