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From Anne C.:

I am currently working on an essay on the subject of attitudes toward death and aging, and would appreciate it greatly if readers could take a few moments to fill out the poll in this post.

Given the quality of her work, you should all head over and help the creative process. Pass the word along, too - no such thing as too many passers-by for poll.

Attitudes towards death and aging, and changes in those attitudes, shape the future of healthy life extension and the longevity research it depends on. If everyone was perfectly comfortable with aging to death (and the inevitable frailty, helplessness, pain and suffering), then it seems self-evident that there would be little or no funding for meaningful anti-aging science. If everyone desired health and longevity, and acted rationally on that desire, then the aging research community would be afloat upon a sea of banknotes.

Neither extreme reflects reality of course; attitudes are complex and contradictory. Opinions depend on how you ask the question. People faun over the worthless trinkets of the "anti-aging" marketplace, looking for the silver bullet that doesn't exist, while refusing to believe that science to actually repair the damage of aging is comparatively close at hand. Folk defend the existence of death and aging, while seizing upon straws in the wind to mask their wrinkles.

It's a strange world, populated by strangers - and it'll be the death of us all if we don't get our act together. Real, working technologies that can rejuvenate the aged - exactly, literally, rejuvenate - are only a few decades away. If the science is funded, if the research community forms, if the public support and understanding exists.

Or we could all keep giving money to the makers of wrinkle-reducing products and sellers of magical thinking about aging - I'm sure they'll be glad to take our funds, as they age to death alongside the rest of us.

As always, the choice of which future you want to live in, and how much of it you see, is very much up to you.

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Comments

I'm a psychiatrist, with both a large private practice treating all ages, and a part time inpatient practice "treating" elderly patients with dementia (mostly patients with behavioral problems that have not been adequately controllable in nursing homes).
I think that denial is just a tremendous problem. When we are young, we simply cannot believe we will get old. When we are middle aged, we're just too busy with careers and children to get involved. When we are old, we just give up. I think we need to begin to attack the ideas and misconceptions about aging early on in our students' educations.
I teach medical students, and as a physician I am interested in disease processes and treatment, of course. The students I teach are, almost without exception, extremely bright. However, when I challenge these very bright students to discuss the causes of aging, most are stumped. WHen I begin to discuss the possibility of age extension, most look at me like I'm a lunatic, and some are even overtly hostile ("why would anyone want to live like an old person for an extra hundred years" or "we'll overpopulate the world"). Never has a student been aware of the possibility of repair of age related deterioration. None have been exposed to the ideas I read about in these pages. None have ever considered "aging" as simply another disease that can (and will) be treatable.
I think it may well be time to begin (at the very least) exposing medical and graduate students to the ideas and research already underway. I do this in my own small way, and students do show interest, especially when they are confronted on a daily basis with their own future. I think we need to plant the seed early- what imact we could have on these students if we taught a single course about current and near future treatments for the medical disease known as aging. (!)

Posted by: Michael Anthony at May 13th, 2007 6:17 PM

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