July 28, 2011
Hitting The Wall At 114 Years Old

This Slate piece brings up a morbid truth: Even the most long lived (female) humans reach the limits of their bodies to support further life at about 114 years. Male bodies, revved up by testosterone, hit the wall sooner.

Last month, a 114-year-old former schoolteacher from Georgia named Besse Cooper became the world's oldest living person. Her predecessor, Brazil's Maria Gomes Valentim, was 114 when she died. So was the oldest living person before her, and the one before her. In fact, eight of the last nine "world's oldest" titleholders were 114 when they achieved the distinction.

The unusual outliers reached 115.

Here's the morbid part: All but two were still 114 when they passed it on. Those two? They died at 115.

One woman reached 122. Not surprising. All the parts wear out. Then comes collapse.

Radical biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey thinks we will soon have the technology to lift that limit.

Dr De Grey said: 'I'd say we have a 50/50 chance of bringing ageing under what I'd call a decisive level of medical control within the next 25 years or so. 'And what I mean by decisive is the same sort of medical control that we have over most infectious diseases today.'

To extend the life of someone who is otherwise going to die at 70 or 75 is a lot easier than raising the limit on someone who is going to die at 115. Why? At age 70 probably only one or two components are failing. Your heart or lungs or liver gives out. A cancer spreads. If you can get a replacement organ or stem cells and gene therapy to repair an organ then that can be fixed. The ability to wipe out cancer cells will prevent cancer deaths. But at age 114 most parts are failing. The size of the intervention needed is orders of magnitude larger.

To go beyond 114 years we will need therapies stretching across decades and all the organs. We should not wait for organs to fail before replacing or repairing them because it will be too risky and too much of a strain on the body to let it get sick from organ failure before doing body upgrades. A still fairly healthy body is much better able to handle the stress of organ-replacement and organ-modification surgeries.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 July 28 07:53 AM  Aging Trends

Mthson said at July 28, 2011 8:56 AM:

The most rational course of action for most people: earn as much money as possible and spend it on advancing medicine.

It might just save your or your loved ones' lives:
1. Engineer Designs Own Life-Saving Implant, 20 Patients Follow.
2. A bioentrepreneur’s very personal quest to find a molecular diagnosis for his daughter.

Alvin said at July 28, 2011 9:00 AM:

The government would not pay or subsidize organ transplants: The longer a senior lives, the more it costs the health care system. They may just cover the drugs. In the future, those that pay for extended care, will live the longest and be healthier in the last few decades of life.

JP Straley said at July 28, 2011 9:13 AM:

Alvin, they might pay for Senators...heh !


PacRim Jim said at July 28, 2011 9:23 AM:

More years of decrepitude.
I can hardly wait.

kdt said at July 28, 2011 9:52 AM:

So if lifespan is your goal why are you not taking estrogen supplements and doing everything you can to lower your testosterone? Serious. If your #1 is to maximize years of life in hopes of surviving until some singularity type event where you live forever ... then why not chemically castrate yourself? Probably the best thing you can do for your lifespan. Probably add 5 years right there -- 2.5 years for each gonad.

Do we have data on lifespan for eunuchs? If men die early due to testosterone ... well, there's an easy fix for that problem. And it'll mellow you out too. Just ask my dog, he's a pretty relaxed dude these days. Just a few months ago he was a stressed out, aggressive dog. That can't be good for his little doggie heart. A quick trip to the vet and my little doggie dude is calm like Buddha.

Personally I'd rather live as a man and die 5 years earlier than women do, but maybe that's just me.

Lou Pagnucco said at July 28, 2011 10:06 AM:

Most supercentenarians appear to succumb to Senile Systemic Amyloidosis (aka Transthyretin Amyloidosis) which fills extra-cellular space with misfolded, aggregated protein-fibril 'sludge'. See --

Why Supercentenarians Die
or the presentation

Several proposed therapies exist.
Probably, inhibiting amyloidoses would help everyone.

Fat Man said at July 28, 2011 10:49 AM:

The linked article contained the following:

Just seven people whose ages could be fully verified by the Gerontology Research Group have ever made it past 115. Only two of those seven lived to see the 21st century. The longest-living person ever, a French woman named Jeanne Calment, died at age 122 in August 1997; no one since 2000 has come within five years of matching her longevity.

If you are interested in this topic, I urge you to check the grg website, and in particular look at the data in:


Gary Salter said at July 28, 2011 1:11 PM:

Most people miss the point that with the development of advanced biotechnologies/nanotechnologies, we will have the tools to REVERSE AGING in OLD PEOPLE.....and keep it that way with regular "tune ups"....no more really old people or some terror tales of mythology where old people get older, just really slowly, as a form of punishment for wanting some therapy that stops aging.

With the US now a failing empire (like all failing empires, being mired in lots of wars, and with all the manufacturing (what I used to do)), and now all the research and development (R&D)going off-shore...how can you compete???

Well, for instance, you concentrate on the latest R&D, which is advanced biotech/nanotech research, where we are learing how the cellular machinery works (DNA, RNA machinery works etc), we develop all the new molecular tools to look inside cells, manipulate cellular machinery (on the nanoscale), like Aubrey de Grey says, all it will take is 1 or 2 billion, spent over 10 years (perhaps 1 to 3 years if longevity research is made a priority and funded to, say 10 to 20 billion perhaps??), after all, just the US spends easily over 20 billion+ per day on wars the and existing military structure etc., what about a world-wide tax on all militaries, to limit their sizes, and avoid the costly future wars (both larg and small) we would otherwise see in the next 5, 10 , 15, 20, 25 years etc.

The point is, we are now at a point in history where our computer tech, our tools biologists, medical researchers, etc, use are getting really powerfull, we have whole generations of people used to complex computer hardware/software technologies, and our biologies are similar in complexity (hardware: cells, software: DNA code), we are turning biology/medicine into and information science, and as Kurzweil says, once you have turned a feild into an information based system, then the growth of the knowledge and capabilities of manipulating these systems grow exponentialy each year (it essentially doubles each year).

So remember, reversing aging is coming to a lab near you in the next 10 years, if the US does nothing, then the other countries labs in the world (Europe, China, India etc.) will, but, it is better that everybody work together (as china says, many hands make light work). Also, remember that our medical systems are running out of money treating aging baby boomers and the elderly using 20th century tech, time to move on to 21st century tech, after all, Aubrey de Grey's institute (the SENS and also Mprize) identified the 7 or so mechanisms of aging that 20th century medical science (studies) identified and the root causes of aging cells, we just need to develop the appropriate tools of 21st century medicine to fixe it with.

Doug said at July 28, 2011 1:17 PM:

A longer, healthier life? Very good!

But immortality. Consider the strange story The Picture of Dorian Gray. That Oscar Wilde authored this is surpassingly ironic, and shockingly honest. Are you sure you really want immortality? If someone like George Soros or Warren Buffet were to gain immortality, given enough time, they might, no, would wind up owning the world. How well do we know ourselves?

How about an Alexander the Great or Attila the Hun or Adolph Hitler or Julius Caesar with immortality to practice and perfect their skills? Are we so sure this would be something good?

It would be better to first become better men, then defeat death. But that's harder than immortality! Personally, I'll take a promise of eternal life from the One who has the power to make men new, not the amoral whiz kids of science, who can't deliver the goods anyway.

Mthson said at July 28, 2011 1:59 PM:

"Are we so sure this would be something good?"

Compared to what? 1 million people dying everyday from aging-related disease for the rest of eternity? Yes, we're pretty sure :)

Tim said at July 28, 2011 2:09 PM:

What if you just gradually replaced your organs/critical parts as part of a process of maintenance? Say you are a 40yr old software multimillionaire. Let say genetically compatible organs from your own cells are available within 15yrs. If he/she had to go to china or hongkong for his treatments he wouldn't care. He could replace his heart and lungs at age 58, other critical organs like spleen, liver, kidneys etc as part of a plan of replacement, not awaiting a specific illness. If his family background has a history of pancreatic cancer, simply replace his pancreas before he gets sick, so that catastrophic intervention isn't needed. By the time he is 105 most if not all of his body critical systems that would likely fail and kill him have already been replaced. By then 50-60yrs from now next generation medical tech like nano-bots would likely be available.

Nanonymous said at July 28, 2011 3:51 PM:

Aubrey de Grey is a total kook. Increases in life expectancy so far have not come at the expense of decreasing aging. And there is absolutely notning that we know that allows any confidence in the claims that successful anti-aging strategies are around the corner. Organ replacement might help but it won't prolong life very much - it's the whole body that's wears out.

Nick G said at July 28, 2011 5:04 PM:

An interesting article http://earlywarn.blogspot.com/2011/07/us-survival-statistics.html#more discussed marginal returns from medical care. I'd describe the curves shown as "squaring the curve". It's what happens when survival rates for individual illnesses improve, but the underlying problem of the aging process isn't addressed.

Most major causes of death grow exponentially with age - roughly 7% per year. Demographers will tell you that reducing the death rate from any given illness by 50% will give a pretty marginal improvement in overall longevity because the death rate from other things will grow very quickly and replace most of the improvement. In fact, reducing the overall deathrate by 50% would only increase lifespan by about 10 years.

The answer: research aimed at aging itself. This would be much, much more cost effective than trying to hold back the tide of individual illnesses. Unfortunately, drug companies don't want to tackle that - they publicly say so.

Now, is aging curable? Of course. The human body is not supernatural - it's an engineering marvel that can be reverse engineered and understood.

Why do small mammals like mice live 4 years and very similar small mammals like bats live 40 years? Why do some birds live 6 years, and other 60 years? There are obviously very small genetic differences that can be understood and used to develop drugs or genetic treatments.

To believe otherwise is, IMHO, a religious statement.

Randall Parker said at July 28, 2011 8:01 PM:


Thanks, those are great links.

I liked how the crusty old engineer developed the sack to prevent his own aorta from rupturing. Inspiring.

As for Illumina's sequencing of parents and their children with harmful mutations: The rest of us are going to benefit greatly from the information derived from harmful mutations. Which genes matter for which aspects of metabolism? Look at people who have messed up versions of those genes. Great clues. Tragic though.


I agree with the future rising marginal utility of cash for medical treatment. I strongly encourage everyone to save more for their old age in order to pay for organs, cell therapies, and the like. Currently the wealthiest have life expectancies only slightly higher than the average. But in the future that will change as the most expensive therapies become far more efficacious.

So really, if you want to get rejuvenation therapies cut your living standard, move to wherever you can make the most money, and save, save, save.


Drug companies are faced with declining returns from developing new chemical drugs. The chemicals just can't do sufficiently complicated and powerful transformations and repairs. At minimum I expect drug companies to shift more toward RNA packaged as drugs and other biologicals. They've got no choice if they want to survive.

Brett Bellmore said at July 29, 2011 3:57 AM:

"Aubrey de Grey is a total kook. Increases in life expectancy so far have not come at the expense of decreasing aging. And there is absolutely notning that we know that allows any confidence in the claims that successful anti-aging strategies are around the corner. Organ replacement might help but it won't prolong life very much - it's the whole body that's wears out."

Nothing we've done up to now has actually addressed any of the causes of aging, just treated the symptoms. Kind of like, you can add Bars Leak to your radiator, and the little floating lumps will seal pinhole leaks, but when a hose ruptures you engine is still a goner.

Or, more medical, until the invention of antibiotics nothing we did to fight infections was very effective, because we weren't fighting the infection, just dealing with side effects. Actually fighting the infection itself was a game changer.

De Grey is right, if we start addressing the actual causes of aging, it will have an impact far different from treating the symptoms.

Carl Pham said at July 29, 2011 1:45 PM:

Quoting Aubrey de Grey on realistic assessments of longevity advances is like quoting Baghdad Bob on how the American drive on Baghdad is doing. The man long ago threw off the confining chains of common sense.

teapartydoc said at July 29, 2011 2:05 PM:

Is it really going to be worth living that long if we still don't have flying cars?

Simon H Gedney said at July 29, 2011 2:21 PM:

"Until 120" is a traditional Jewish toast for a long life for someone. Perhaps they knew what they were talking about.


Lummox JR said at July 29, 2011 2:32 PM:

I like Aubrey de Grey's outlook but he always tends to look at promising medical advances as reaching fruition for the general public much sooner than they tend to. Too much bureaucracy is in the way and we're not nearly far enough along this learning curve. I don't think there's a prayer in the world we'll reach the milestone he's talking about in 25 years; I do think 50 is far more likely, but it's also not likely to be as impressive in its results (at that time) as what he's suggesting.

TTT said at July 29, 2011 3:05 PM:

I have said it before : We will never breach the WALL.

Medical technologies will allow more people to cross 100. But the number crossing 115 will still be virtually zero even then.

Currently, only 0.1% of those crossing 100 cross 110, let alone 115.

I see no reason to change this view until there are about 10,000 people worldwide who are verifiably older than 110.

Call me after that, and we'll talk.

Steve White said at July 29, 2011 3:25 PM:

For those of you who suggest that we could replace or 'maintain' organs at periodic intervals, Robert Heinlein got there well before you: the Lazarus Long series explores this very well.

Swen Swenson said at July 29, 2011 5:41 PM:

So if we last long enough we'll eventually go like Oliver Wendell Holmes' Wonderful One-hoss Shay? http://holyjoe.org/poetry/holmes1.htm

Personally, I wish the biogerontologists would invest more effort in perfecting pickling as a long-life treatment. :D

Nick G said at July 29, 2011 6:05 PM:

I think Brett is right - we're not dealing with the fundamental causes, which is why marginal effectiveness of drug research is declining.

Until we actually know what causes aging, we won't know how to solve it and what will be required. We don't now whether it will be easy or hard.

The fact that relatively small genetic differences between species cause very large differences in lifespan suggest to me that extending lifespan may be much easier than we fear.

Nick G said at July 29, 2011 6:09 PM:

Roundworms have about 15,000 genes. Tweak just one, and you extend lifespan by 6x times.

I suspect there's large potential.

The problem: the current health system has every incentive to keep us sick. general health would cause a dramatic drop in revenue. That's why drug companies tweak their current drugs, and don't try to create big leaps in treatment: they don't want to destroy their future.

comatus said at July 29, 2011 7:05 PM:

The one who lived to 122, smoked until she was 117, just saying.

PacRim Jim said at July 29, 2011 9:15 PM:

It occurs to me that, if we were to switch to octal notation, we would live longer.

Feargal said at July 30, 2011 9:07 AM:

"The one who lived to 122, smoked until she was 117, just saying."

Well, good thing that she quit then.

Randall Parker said at July 30, 2011 11:35 AM:

Carl Pham, TTT,

Do you think replacement organs won't happen in the next few decades? Or that such organs won't enable longer life? What makes you so pessimistic on life extension?

TTT said at July 31, 2011 1:20 PM:

Do you think replacement organs won't happen in the next few decades? Or that such organs won't enable longer life? What makes you so pessimistic on life extension?

Like I said, the world currently has almost 1,000,000 people over 100, but only 0.1% of them cross 110.

When we get 10,000 people who are verifiably over 110, call me.

It is not just about organs. It is at the cellular level. The telomere level. Even the mental fatigue level (a lot of people age 85+ actually *want* to die, you know).

TTT said at July 31, 2011 1:23 PM:

Roundworms have about 15,000 genes. Tweak just one, and you extend lifespan by 6x times.
I suspect there's large potential.

Yeah, and cut an Earthworm in half and both pieces grow into new Earthworms.

Somehow, no one expects this to be possible for humans.

Same goes for aging.

Randall Parker said at July 31, 2011 4:36 PM:


A lot of people 85+ are suffering many ailments and pains and have far diminished capacity and worry about poverty and inability to get their basic needs cared for. Give them younger bodies and I bet their spirits would perk right up.

Cellular level: Not a problem in new organs. The main problem is in the brain. Though even there we can replace many cell types.

kenh said at July 31, 2011 5:11 PM:

How is de Grey's Methuselah Mouse prize coming along? That success would be an important indicator of de Grey's prediction abilities.

LarryD said at August 1, 2011 9:51 AM:

"Do you think replacement organs won't happen in the next few decades? Or that such organs won't enable longer life?"

Let me take an example from science fiction (And yes, in series this technique is illegal almost everywhere.)

Transplant eighty year old brain into cloned body. The brain is still eighty years old, all the central nervous system ills from aging, including micro-strokes, are still going to occur "on schedule" as it were. You haven't reset the clock, just gained a while from narrowing the cause of death down to some CNS failure. Odds are, you've gained some time, but not a huge amount, not another sixty years, or forty years, maybe ten, twenty with a lot of luck.

That's even assuming we can beat the Hayflick limit on cloned organs.

Mthson said at August 1, 2011 9:32 PM:

Re: replacing the brain

1. Your brain and quality of life will be much better with a 20 year old body than with a 100 year old body.
2. All problems are solvable: Gradually replace the brain piece by piece and you retain the original consciousness as it trains the new tissue. As medicine advances, regenerate the brain at a cellular level without necessitating replacement.

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