Aging is a Terrible, Disabling Disease That Kills You

Aging is a terrible, disabling disease that kills you. I have it, you have it, we all have it. Unless we band together to do something about it, we all will suffer and die. This banding together faces a large obstacle, however: most people, for one reason or another, don't think of aging this way, even though the facts are very much in evidence.

Anne C. advances this point more succinctly than I:

Think about it for a moment: if I described the physical signs and eventual prognosis of aging to you, but you didn't know how old the person was that I was talking about, would you seriously consider the condition to be something nobody should look into addressing medically? Aging takes a healthy, vigorous person and saddles them with progressively increasing susceptibility to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, joint problems, overall weakness, and immune dysfunction and eventually kills that person. Without fail.

When we see these symptoms in children, we call it progeria, and you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone suggesting that we should just "let nature take its course" and let these children get sicker and sicker to the point where they die. Quite rightfully, we attempt to address their health challenges with therapies like aspirin, blood pressure pills, and cholesterol-lowering drugs. In addition to these conventional treatments, we also perform research along possible avenues that might eventually enable more effective treatments that strike right at the source of this condition -- the genes and underlying biology.

Even when these symptoms start appearing in younger adults -- a sort of "late-onset progeria" is diagnosed, called Werner syndrome. This condition results in the initial appearance of rapid physical aging following puberty. Individuals with Werner syndrome commonly die in their forties or fifties.

Notice anything interesting about the Werner prognosis? Though the expected lifespan of an individual afflicted with Werner syndrome is actually comparable to the average lifespan just over a century ago, this condition is most assuredly considered something that an individual would want to fight against with all available medical resources.

Why then, does there exist a form of willful communal blindness to the terrible, widespread disease that is aging? Why is there no widespread, organized urgency to do something about it? Compare this state of affairs with attitudes towards equally horrific medical conditions that afflict far fewer people. Small scientific armies - and commensurate funding - have been raised and directed to cure cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer's, malaria, diabetes, Parkinson's and many other conditions. But aging, the condition we all suffer and die from, the source of so many other conditions we name and fight, is largely ignored or accepted.

My thought for the day is this: is the human drive for common ground so strong that any horrid unpleasantness shared by all is rendered acceptable? Is it the case that stubborn resistance to change will kick in no matter how beneficial change might be? We are moving from an era in which nothing could be done to defeat aging into an era in which advancing biotechnology will give us the tools to do just this. All the old attitudes are no longer relevant, and have in fact become quite harmful:

You become stressed, sick and crazy if continually focused on matters you cannot change - and so evolution has led to humans who are very skilled at avoiding this sort of result. People being people, simple rationales became vast, complex, overwhelming cultural edifices over the generations. Now, at the dawn of the biotechnology era, the inevitable is no longer inevitable. The research establishment - if sufficiently funded and motivated - could make meaningful inroads into repairing and preventing the root causes of aging within our lifetime. The leftover cultural and hardwired human habits relating to our decay and mortality now actively hinder progress towards the elimination of age-related degeneration, disease, frailty and death.

A parable for this most important transformation of our time has already been written. It's called "The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant", and recounts the passage we would like to see: from ignorance and acceptance of the daily toll of aging, through the struggle with ourselves to find the will to seek a cure, to the final defeat of age-related death and suffering. Go now and read it.

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Only one third of Americans say they want to live to 100. Why? They imagine 100+ means running out of money, being in a wheel chair in nursing home, drooling, with Alzheimer's disease rotting away their brains, and the highlight of their day--nursing home food. The more we can paint a picutre of vital centenarians who are dancing, sculpting, playing sports, writing best sellers, and even flying airplanes, and the more we can help people realize that we are living so much longer, the more support we will have for curing aging. Part of the problem too is that we don't know how to let go. I.e., until we have a cure for aging and a number of diseases, there comes a point at which the quality of life is so compromised by pain, disability, or dementia that we need an acceptable way to say I don't want any more medications or machines. Hospice has started this process in a very loving way.

Finally, we need to paint a picture of how one can have purpose in life and contribute when in our 80s, 90s, and hundreds.

--Michael Brickey, Ph.D., America's Anti-Aging Psychologist and Oprah-featued author of Defy Aging.

Posted by: Dr. Michael Brickey at August 15th, 2006 7:32 AM

I hope scientists can find a cure for aging
soon. If more people would just be open to
the possibility of anti-aging it would be a
huge benefit to all mankind.

Posted by: Paul Battista at October 29th, 2006 7:16 AM
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