Really There is No Such Thing as Healthy Aging

I'm not a big fan of the phrase "successful aging." It is a popular shorthand among researchers who investigate means of slowing aging and reducing incidence of age-related disease, but who do not wish to talk in public about extending human life span. So it is a problematic fig leaf on that count, but it is also a contradiction in terms. Aging is damage and degeneration, and so what if you manage to die, slowly and painfully, a shadow of your former self, just a little later than your peers? Why is that counted a success?

When we look elsewhere in the medical community, this lack of ambition and acceptance of disease is not what we see. Take cancer research, for example: it doesn't matter how many months that scientists manage to add to a terminal patient's life span, you'll never hear them talking about "successful terminal cancer" as a desired outcome. The measure of success in cancer research is to produce a cure, and that should also be the measure of success for aging, so that the research community aims to prevent and reverse age-related degeneration and disease, such as through implementation of the SENS proposals. Anything less is ridiculous: it is to say that degeneration, pain, and suffering are acceptable, and we should do nothing much about it. That is clearly the antithesis of what should mean to be involved in medical research and development.

I think that Maria Konovalenko of the Science for Life Extension Foundation is correct in noting here that the phrase "healthy aging" has essentially all of the same issues given the way it is presently used in the research and medical communities. It is a contradiction in terms: aging is explicitly the process of becoming less healthy. The fundamental definition of aging is that it is a rise in the chance of dying due to increasing tissue dysfunction, which doesn't sound a great deal like health to me.

There Can Be No Healthy Aging

[Craig Venter's institute] has received 1.25 million dollars from the Ruggles Family Foundation to study the biomarkers of healthy aging. This study makes no sense to me, because they want to look at the differences in health between sick people and even sicker people and call the results of the study markers of healthy aging. They propose to measure the right things, but what the study planners are missing here is the fact that aging itself is a disease. Aging can't be healthy, because the underlying biological mechanisms that are causing age-related pathologies are active also in those aged individuals, who don't have those diseases.

These people are considered to be just old, but not sick. That's exactly what's wrong with perception of aging. Everyone who reached a certain age is considered to be simply old, but not ill. However this person is 100% not healthy in a biological sense, because a lot of detrimental processes have already started their poisonous actions and altered the youthful state of the organism.

Here's what important - we need to change the perception of aging, so there would be no confusing terms like "healthy aging", which is an oxymoron. It's like "dignified poverty", or "merciful tyrant". Aging is not and can not be healthy. Aging is itself a disease. It is also the cause of many other maladies like Alzheimer's and stroke, and many others. We have to stop using the term healthy aging, because it is already making us conduct poorly designed research experiments.


I've always thought the expression "healthy aging" was an oxymoron.

Posted by: Abelard Lindsey at November 8th, 2013 9:53 PM

Yeah, it makes as much sense as "successful tsunamis" or "healthy ebola". The key attribute of people experiencing "successful aging" is basically the complete opposite of the term - they have -failed- to age as much as would be expected for someone of their chronological age. The correct term would be "very slightly milder than usual aging".

Posted by: Arcanyn at November 9th, 2013 1:11 AM

My definition of healthy includes not being likely to die within the next 50 years. If you are likely to die within the next 50 years, then I classify that as a terminal illness that needs treatment.

We need biomarkers of aging, so we can efficiently test therapies to fight it.

Posted by: Carl at November 9th, 2013 7:01 AM

I agree with the idea to invest in the discovery of biomarkers and correlate relevant biomarkers with aging. "Healthy" is surely loaded with aesthetical, cultural, etc. value and its intensional structure only stands to be informed or expanded by the extensional results of aging itself, as it is expressed in the species insofar as its average lifespan is engineered.

I would replace such marketing gestures and that kind of talk with "Open Aging", in kind with splinter movements from the Open Source community, like Open Sorcery, Open Government, and Open Web.

Posted by: nerdfiles at November 9th, 2013 9:59 AM

'Successful Aging' is a bit of a strange phrase, but I think we need to be sophisticated about the likely incremental nature of the results and discoveries as they come. Further, we should likely be responsive to the public's idea of success and their need to see progress, for it may determine how available and supportive funding is during the entire period of development. We may find that having milestones and achieving them may be the best way to 'win over' public support/ monies/ participation in a concrete foundation, not bandwagon, type way. Also, I am not sure that 'the solution set' will be achieved in one complete jump. It may be an interesting strategy to determine what milestones would the public find most compelling - a type of kickstarter 'stretch' goal.
1) if life lasts 20 years longer but 10 of those are at reduced capacity, is that strategy worth pursuing? -or- 8 years longer with mid-life type health level, but then sudden plunge to bedridden - which is better?
2) if life lasts no longer than typical, but the incidence of any age-related deterioration is removed until a few years before the end, is this an improvement?
3) if full reproductive capacity and 30s health is maintained until within a few years of typical death age, is this desirable and seen as a milestone?
4) if 20s age health could be maintained until late 90s but at the inconvenience of monthly transfusion-type (in the sense of medical procedure life inconvenience) treatment for the entire time, would that be seen as progress?
5) if 150 years of health could be achieved at the cost of having your reproductive capacity eliminated at 16, would that be seen as good for society?

Posted by: Jer at November 10th, 2013 8:15 AM

"... aging is explicitly the process of becoming less healthy..."
I guess that begs the question: when, during the course of our development, are we (ideally) healthy, if ever? (academic paper on chronological start of decline?)

Posted by: Jer at November 10th, 2013 8:28 AM

save lives?

are you above death? is it so hard to imagine a world without yourself in it, are you so conceited as to think that you can live forever?

death is a paradigm of life. it is a rule. there is no escape. everyone you know will die. you will die. i will die. we will no longer exist on this earth, and our memories will be faint and short lasting.

and they will be lived out in the fear of loss. so many people die with their music still inside them, with all of their tenacity and vigor, subdued out of fear. you don't manipulate your life, you live it. you have this illusion of control, like you have any. you want it to be something, instead of being grateful for what you have. you depend on and learn from every person you meet, we are all a network of souls, not independent of each other. no man is an island, just as a piece of land is washed away by the sea, the country is lesser for it. the death of every man is my death, and in every man is my life. ask not for whom the bell tolls.

Posted by: december at February 2nd, 2014 3:42 AM

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