There's nothing wrong with becoming old, but everything wrong with aging. Old means experienced, invested, wealthier, time-tested and just all-round better for having been around the block. Aging, on the other hand, is the direct result of biochemical damage you picked up along the way - ongoing deterioration that is a side-effect of being alive. The passage of years brings a constant flow of opportunities for growth and self-improvement, until aging takes away your ability to compete, your ability to take care of yourself, and eventually your life. Someone should look into that.
If you're not one to think much about medical research, you might be under the impression that aging is fairly mysterious, a primal and inevitably metered process quite separate from the diseases of old age. In fact that's not the case. Aging is exactly and precisely the root cause of those diseases of old age, and scientists have a good understanding of what aging actually is, once you get under the hood and start looking at cells and the cellular environment:
- Loss of important cells without replacement over the years
- Accumulation of damaged, malfunctioning and senescent cells
- Free radical damage resulting from damaged mitochondrial DNA
- Accumulation of waste chemicals that cannot be broken down inside cells
- Accumulation of biochemicals gummed together by sugar outside cells
- Formation of amyloid deposits throughout the body
- Breakdown of cell control processes, leading to the runaway growth of cancer
The short story is that aging is damage and change, rust and wear for our biology that is caused by the normal operation of human biochemistry. You can't run machinery without causing wear, and you can't run factories full of machinery without creating waste by-products. Machinery with a lot of rust and wear breaks down in any number of ways, and biological machinery is no exception - just a few classes of wear, rust and buildup of waste lead to a vast array of different malfunctions.
When you can't do anything about the rust, wear and waste, you put on the best face possible under the circumstances and soldier on. Perhaps you convince yourself that the miseries of an increasingly damaged body and mind are for the best. It's a slowly boiling pot, but it's our slowly boiling pot, and it's all we have. We humans are good at that sort of proactive self-deception for the sake of sanity in the face of the inevitable - we've been doing it for a very long time indeed.
All habits outlive their usefulness, however, and self-deception about aging has lingered past its time. These early years of the 21st century are the opening notes in a symphony of biotechnology, an expanding revolution in medicine, research and computation. The breadth and speed of research in modern biotechnology is breathtaking; already, the laboratories of of this decade are far beyond those of the 1990s:
- Cancer researchers are developing targeted, precise, safe cell destruction therapies that will applicable to any unwanted, damaging cells.
- Scientists are turning the immune system to destroy the amyloid buildup of Alzheimer's disease, and other amyloids of aging will follow.
- Methods to repair and replace damaged mitochondrial DNA are emerging from the laboratory.
- The regenerative medicine community is deciphering the genetic and chemical controls that will make our stem cells do our bidding, to replenish cells lost to age.
- Researchers are plundering the bacterial world for enzymes that can break down damaging biochemicals that build up with age.
If you think aging is inevitable, and that we should make the best of it, then you're probably not helping the world's researchers in their efforts to repair the damage that causes aging. You see, funding for research is very dependant on the zeitgeist of the age. If most people think that aging is inevitable, conservative funding bodies won't fund research aimed at the repair of biochemical damage that causes aging. Thus little progress occurs, no-one in the public is given any reason to doubt that aging is inevitable, and medicines to repair aging are pushed further into the future, perhaps out of reach for you and I.
Given the choice to be old, wise and better without being aged, frail and ill, wouldn't you choose to repair the damage? It's not a hypothetical question anymore, and the number of years it takes to develop medicines of repair for aging depends upon your answer.