2011 July 28 Thursday
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.

By Randall Parker    2011 July 28 07:53 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (35)
2010 December 29 Wednesday
10 Million British To Live To 100th Birthday

With a population of about 62 million people nearly one in six are expected to reach the age of 100.

In the first official projection of its kind, the Department for Work and Pensions today forecasts that almost a fifth of Britons will celebrate their 100th birthday.

Of the 17 per cent of the population who will become centenarians, about three million are under the age of 16, and 5.5 million are aged between 16 and 50.

Predicting the rate of increase of life expectancy used to be much easier because the rate of increase did not vary much. But some areas of biotechnology are increasingly driven by the same kinds of advances that make computer power increase so rapidly.

Just as computer circuits kept getting smaller and more dense biological instrumentation is undergoing a similar revolution where microfluidic devices and gene chips do work previously done with human hands wielding flasks, pipettes, and petri dishes. So, for example, DNA sequencing costs have fallen by orders of magnitude and that trend continues. In a similar vein large numbers of cells are manipulated individually in microfluidic devices.

It is difficult to look down the road 20 years and guess every way that biological manipulations will speed up by orders of magnitude or which treatments will become very easy as a consequence. But it seems reasonable to expect that in the 21st century we will experience a revolution in biotechnology in par with the revolution in computer technology that began in the middle of the 20th century and continues to this day.

By Randall Parker    2010 December 29 09:16 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
2010 September 06 Monday
Muscle Loss With Aging To Be Treated As Disease

The New York Times reports on a push in medicine: Age-related muscle loss is as bad as bone loss and should also be labeled and treated as a disease.

In addition, geriatric specialists, in particular, are now trying to establish the age-related loss of muscles as a medical condition under the name sarcopenia, from the Greek for loss of flesh. Simply put, sarcopenia is to muscle what osteoporosis is to bone.

“In the future, sarcopenia will be known as much as osteoporosis is now,” said Dr. Bruno Vellas, president of the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics.

I welcome the labeling of every aspect of aging as a disease because only diseases get research and treatment. General aging does not get attacked head on. So by all means, label every change we experience while aging as a vile disease. How about hair graying and hair loss? Surely diseases. Ditto all other changes in appearance.

Don't feel as flexible as you used to? That's a disease. Don't have the energy of a 17 year old? Disease, horrible malady. Needs a cure. Finding yourself needing reading glasses in your early 40s? Don't kid yourself. That's a disease. Demand a cure. Stem cells, gene therapy, nano repair bots, whatever it takes.

Am I missing any other important changes that come with age that have not yet been labeled as diseases?

By Randall Parker    2010 September 06 09:22 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (21)
2010 April 18 Sunday
Trend Toward Working More Years

RAND Corporation researchers predict the trend toward delayed retirement will accelerate.

After more than a century of decline, the number of older American men and women in the workforce began to rise modestly during the 1990s. While about 17 percent of Americans aged 65 to 75 were employed in 1990, the proportion is expected to rise to 25 percent in 2010. A jump in employment among those aged 75 and older also has been seen.

Despite the steady increase in employment among older Americans, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the trend will begin to flatten this year for men aged 65 to 74 and by 2020 for men age 75 and older. The agency predicts a similar plateau for women beginning in 2020.

But RAND researchers say the forces that are causing people to delay retirement or reenter the workforce are strong enough to propel the current trend forward until at least 2030.

The impetus to work longer is going to grow because governments have overpromised on old age benefits and are going to be too poor to deliver. The tax increases needed to make good on all those promises would be too large and would elicit too much opposition among those still working. So I expect retirement ages to be raised and benefits cut. My advice: plan your career so that you have a path that'll allow you to keep working at a bearable job until you are 70 or older.

Office jobs are easier for aging bodies and since more people are doing office jobs more can keep working. Working in one's 60s is a lot harder to do in construction. I know guys having a hard time with construction in their 50s due to work injuries.

A principal reason why retirement rates have dropped is because of an evolution in the skill composition of the nation's workforce, according to the study. As American workers have gained more education, they have achieved jobs that are more fulfilling, they face fewer physical demands in the workplace and they are paid more for their efforts.

Adding to this phenomenon is the rise in the number of dual-earner families. Since couples tend to retire together and men often are older than their spouse, men may stay in the work force longer to accommodate their wives' work lives, according to the study.

Once stem cell therapies, gene therapies, routine growth of replacement organs, and other rejuvenation therapies hit the market the resulting increase in life expectancy will require much longer participation in the workforce. I expect many such therapies to hit the market in the next 20 years. Therefore current projections for life expectancies strike me as overly pessimistic. Time to start planning for a longer life.

By Randall Parker    2010 April 18 09:44 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (15)
2009 August 31 Monday
Death Risk Rankings Web Site

Do you feel lucky to be alive? Check out this web site and see if you are right.

PITTSBURGH—Have you ever wondered what the chances are that you may die in the next year? Would it be from illness or an accident? Is it something you can control? Or is it completely out of your hands?

A new Web site, www.DeathRiskRankings.com, developed by researchers and students at Carnegie Mellon University, allows users to query publicly available data from the United States and Europe, and compare mortality risks by gender, age, cause of death and geographic region. The Web site not only gives the risk of dying within the next year, but it also ranks the probable causes and allows for quick side-by-side comparison between groups.

Suppose you wanted to know who is more likely to die next year from breast cancer, a 54-year-old Pennsylvania woman or her counterpart in the United Kingdom.

"This is the only place to look," said Paul Fischbeck, site developer and professor of social and decision sciences and engineering and public policy (EPP) at Carnegie Mellon. "It turns out that the British woman has a 33 percent higher risk of breast cancer death. But for lung/throat cancer, the results are almost reversed, and the Pennsylvania woman has a 29 percent higher risk."

I chose outputs broken down by regional US categories but found the results frustrating. The Pacific included such diverse places as Alaska, California, and Hawaii along with Oregon and Washington state. Hawaii has what in common with Alaska? I can see grouping New England (which has the lowest death risks in analyses I chose to do). But my guess is death risks differ greatly from New Hampshire to Manhattan. If one wanted to move to a lower risk area it would be hard to use these results to one one. Though the US southeast and especially east south central (Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi) come thru as places higher death risks - probably due to higher obesity and poor lifestyle choices. The colder areas appear to be healthier than the warmer areas. But is that due to cultural preferences or weather?

Anyone see interesting patterns in the data? Post in the comments.

By Randall Parker    2009 August 31 10:48 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2009 August 19 Wednesday
US Life Expectancy Up To 77.9 Years

75.3 years for men and 80.4 years for women.

U.S. life expectancy reached nearly 78 years (77.9), and the age-adjusted death rate dropped to 760.3 deaths per 100,000 population, both records, according to the latest mortality statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The report, “Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2007,” was issued today by CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. The data are based on nearly 90 percent of death certificates in the United States.

The 2007 increase in life expectancy – up from 77.7 in 2006 -- represents a continuation of a trend. Over a decade, life expectancy has increased 1.4 years from 76.5 years in 1997 to 77.9 in 2007.

We are making gains against some of the big diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

Between 2006 and 2007, mortality rates declined significantly for eight of the 15 leading causes of death. Declines were observed for influenza and pneumonia (8.4 percent), homicide (6.5 percent), accidents (5 percent), heart disease (4.7 percent), stroke (4.6 percent), diabetes (3.9 percent), hypertension (2.7 percent), and cancer (1.8 percent).

If you want to cut your own risks read my archives Aging Diet Cancer Studies and Aging Diet Heart Studies. A lot of the dietary factors heart disease risk reduction also slow brain aging. But you can also read Aging Diet Brain Studies for more ideas.

Conventional drugs and diet can only take us so far. What we need for bigger steps toward longer lives: Rejuvenation therapies. We need stem cells, gene therapies, immune therapies that remove accumulated junk, and nanodevices that do repairs. When do these therapies start hitting clinics and hospitals in substantial numbers? Hard to say. But experiments on animals with some of these therapies make me think most of us will live to see these therapies hit the mainstream.

By Randall Parker    2009 August 19 10:49 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (17)
2008 June 11 Wednesday
Life Expectancy At Birth Rises

Ijn the United States from 2005 to 2006 the CDC's life expectancy at birth rose .3 years.

Age-adjusted death rates in the United States dropped significantly between 2005 and 2006 and life expectancy hit another record high, according to preliminary death statistics released today by CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.

The 2006 age-adjusted death rate fell to 776.4 deaths per 100,000 population from 799 deaths per 100,000 in 2005, the CDC report said. In addition, death rates for eight of the 10 leading causes of death in the United States all dropped significantly in 2006, it said. These included a very sharp drop in mortality from influenza and pneumonia.

The preliminary infant mortality rate for 2006 was 6.7 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, a 2.3 percent decline from the 2005 rate of 6.9.

The drop in death from influenza and pneumonia might just represent a weak set of flu strains in 2006. I doubt it comes as a result of a big improvement in methods of treatment.

This CDC estimate of life expectancy at birth is going to turn out to be grossly in error as advances in biotechnology start to make themselves felt in terms of better treatments. Someone born today will turn 78 in 2086. Does the CDC think that in 2086 we won't have replacement organs, cures for cancer, cures for Alzheimer's Disease, and stem cell therapies? 78 is an extremely conservative estimate for life expectancy of someone born today.

  • Life expectancy at birth hit a record high in 2006 of 78.1 years, a 0.3 increase from 2005. Record high life expectancy was recorded for both white males and black males (76 years and 70 years respectively) as well as for white females and black females (81 years and 76.9 years).
  • The preliminary number of deaths in the United States in 2006 was 2,425,900, a 22,117 decrease from 2005.
  • Between 2005 and 2006, the largest decline in age-adjusted death rates occurred for influenza/pneumonia (12.8 percent). Other declines were observed for chronic lower respiratory diseases (6.5 percent), stroke (6.4 percent), heart disease (5.5 percent), diabetes (5.3 percent), hypertension (5 percent), chronic liver disease/cirrhosis (3.3 percent), suicide (2.8 percent), septicemia, also known as blood poisoning (2.7 percent), cancer (1.6 percent) and accidents (1.5 percent).
  • There were 12,045 deaths from HIV/AIDS in 2006, and age-adjusted death rates from the disease declined 4.8 percent from 2005.
  • Alzheimer’s disease overtook diabetes as the 6th leading cause of death in the United States in 2006. Preliminary data indicate 72,914 Americans died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2006.

The full report (PDF) has lots more details. Here are the top 15 causes of death. Number 1 caused 629,191 deaths followed by 2 at 560,102 and 3 at 137,265. Those top 3 killers account for 54.6% of all deaths. The top 15 causes account for 81.2% of all death. The only one of the top 15 causes that did not drop in incidence was number 9, kidney-related diseases.

1.Diseases of heart
2.Malignant neoplasms
3.Cerebrovascular diseases
4.Chronic lower respiratory diseases
5.Accidents (unintentional injuries)
6.Alzheimer’s disease
7.Diabetes mellitus
8.Influenza and pneumonia
9.Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome and nephrosis
11.Intentional self-harm (suicide)
12.Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis
13.Essential hypertension and hypertensive renal disease
14.Parkinson’s disease
15.Assault (homicide)

We need cures for cancer. We also need stem cell therapies for the vascular system. Plus, we need stem cell therapies for heart muscle. All those combined would stop the first 3 killers (excepting heart problems which have a neural component). Such treatments would also reduce the incidence of brain diseases by improving brain circulation.

While the list above shows what kills us. It understates the problems with brain decay. A lot of people die of cancer and heart disease while gradually sinking into dementia.

Want to have rational worries about the future? Worry that too many obstacles are slowing up the rate of progress for the development of rejuvenation therapies. Support measures to remove some of those obstacles.

By Randall Parker    2008 June 11 10:33 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2006 August 05 Saturday
Actuaries Can Not Predict Life Expectancies

British actuaries no longer think they can provide reliable predictions for expected life expectancies.

The Actuarial Profession today announced its adoption of new mortality tables (see Note 1). The tables were produced by the Continuous Mortality Investigation (CMI) (see Note 2.), a research organisation of the Actuarial Profession. The tables were published in draft form in 2005 (see Note 3.) and minor adjustments were incorporated in the final version to reflect feedback received from actuaries.

Previous sets of tables have incorporated projections of future mortality, but this has not been done with the latest tables because of the uncertainty surrounding future improvements. The CMI has been undertaking significant research into possible methods of projecting mortality. This research is continuing, but it is not currently expected that this work will lead to adoption of a specific projection basis by the Actuarial Profession. Instead the profession is saying that actuaries – and other professionals using mortality projections – should consider a range of scenarios.

There are important financial implications of any improvement in mortality. For pensioners, improved mortality rates (see Note 4.) mean spending longer in retirement and the latest tables show why many commentators have been calling for retirement ages to increase.

Nick Dumbreck, President of the Institute of Actuaries, commented: “Actuaries have always been expected to satisfy themselves that using a mortality table published by the profession is appropriate for the particular purpose to which it is put and this is no different with the latest tables. However the absence of mortality projections in these tables emphasises the need for actuaries to consider the uncertainty surrounding future mortality experience and to explain the financial repercussions of this uncertainty to their employers and clients.”

Pension funds that provide guaranteed benefits until death are in worse financial shape than they know. As the rate of increase in life expectancies starts to accelerate will governments eventually step in with legal changes to relieve the pension funds of some of their liabilties?

The actuaries show a table of dramatic improvements in the odds of dying at ages 65, 75, and 85. The series "92" represents measured death rates in 1991-1994 and the later series "00" represents death rates during 1999-2002.

The following information is repeated from the Press Release of September 2005. Mortality rates are the probability of dying at a given age. Specimen mortality rates (per 1,000) from the new tables (the "00" Series) and the previous tables (the "92" Series) and the implied improvements are shown in the table below:

Age "00" series "92" series Improvement "00" Series "92 Series" Improvement
6512.8518.12 29% 7.41 10.98 33%
75 40.82 54.20 25% 26.42 34.61 24%
85 111.52 131.07 15% 82.48 91.88 10%

The figures quoted are for pensioners insured under life office pension schemes (ie, not individual annuity-type arrangements) who retire at or after normal retirement dates (ie, excluding early retirements, who may be retiring due to ill-health).

Stem cell therapies for heart disease, drugs to stop Alzheimer's plaque build-up, immunotherapies against cancer, and many other coming treatments are going to cause big surges in longevity. Actuaries have no way of knowing when these treatments will come. But they are already seeing big enough changes in longevity to doubt their abilities to predict future life expectancies. The rate of advance for biomedical science and biotechnology is accelerating.

Aubrey de Grey has coined the term ‘actuarial escape velocity’ (AEV) which is the point at which life expectancy goes up faster than 1 year per year. Once we reach AEV your odds of dying in a given year will become less than your odds of dying in the previous year. Aubrey thinks AEV is within reach within a few decades.

The escape velocity cusp is closer than you might guess. Since we are already so long lived, even a 30% increase in healthy life span will give the first beneficiaries of rejuvenation therapies another 20 years—an eternity in science—to benefit from second-generation therapies that would give another 30%, and so on ad infinitum. Thus, if first-generation rejuvenation therapies were universally available and this progress in developing rejuvenation therapy could be indefinitely maintained, these advances would put us beyond AEV.

I share his optimism because I see advances in biotechnology of sorts that mirror the kinds of advances that occur in electronics. Microfluidics devices built using processes similar to those used to build semiconductor computer chips in particular promise to make laboratory science orders of magnitude faster and cheaper. Therefore many biomedical problems will become easily solvable. These advances in biotechnology will enable us to develop the full range of Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) and eventually to reverse the aging process.

By Randall Parker    2006 August 05 10:05 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (15)
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