We need a war on aging to understand and defeat the aging process itself, to develop medicine to prevent and treat whatever the underlying causes of aging turn out to be. However, we must also continue to fight the conditions of aging. Even if we manage to treat, prevent or somehow safely disable the degenerative parts of the aging process, we can still be killed by medical conditions.
As an aside, this is not to say that there is a sharp dividing line between medical conditions and aging. In fact, we could argue that what is currently called "natural aging" or "normal aging" is just an expression of the limits of our knowledge regarding diseases and conditions. After all, "normal aging" is a concept that changes over time. Before Alzheimer's was understood to be a condition, its dreadful symptoms were regarded as a part of normal aging. Before osteoporosis (age-related bone loss) was identified as a condition, loss of bone strength was also regarded as a part of normal aging.
Medical scientists identify new age-related conditions every year. Just this month, a major new degenerative neurological condition was discovered that affects men over the age of 50. Its symptoms have been misdiagnosed as "natural aging" or Alzheimer's up until this point.
So it may be that when we are chalking up illness and loss of capability to natural aging, we are referring to a collection of currently unknown diseases and medical conditions that will one day be identified, preventable and treatable. This theory was most recently put forward by a pair of European researchers:
As a further aside, there is a large downside to the concept of "natural aging," entirely related to funding for medical research. Funding for aging studies is miniscule compared to funding assigned to beat any well known, identified disease or condition. Thus, the research that could identify all remaining unknown age-related conditions languishes. We can lay a fair amount of the blame here at the feet of the FDA in the US: the FDA refuses to classify aging as a disease, and will thus not approve any potential treatment. If the FDA will not approve it, then the initial funding for research will not be forthcoming - FDA approval is very necessary for any eventual profit from such research.
SAGE Crossroads just recently posted the transcript of a webcast discussion on this very topic, which I think most of you will find a good read.
But let's get back to the point.
I advocate a massive increase in funding for aging and real anti-aging research, with an eye to identifying a cure for aging. It may be that this results in the categorization of aging into any number of separate medical conditions, with no underlying "aging process," or it may not. Either way, the fight against aging does not mean neglecting the fight against cancer, diabetes, heart disease or Alzheimer's. Longer, healthier lives will require us to beat not only the aging process (if there is such a thing), but also all of these conditions - which modern science can accomplish, with enough funding.
Many of these conditions are related to aging in some way, which is also a good incentive for research. For example, researchers are just beginning to uncover intricate biochemical and genetic relationships between aging and cancer. The same sorts of intricacy can be expected in all of the "age-related" conditions; something has to explain why old people are far more susceptible. This sort of information lays the groundwork for later research into therapies and cures, and sheds more light onto the process of aging itself.
So full speed ahead with cancer research, I say. Let's find a cure for aging and fix all of these horrible conditions that plague mankind: it could all be done for far less money than most of the industrialized nations spend on weaponary and electing leaders.