It remains the case that most people are instinctively opposed to the idea of treating aging as a medical condition, bringing an end to age-related disease, and lengthening healthy life spans. No doubt our descendants will look upon this as a sort of transitory mania of the times, but it does make life much harder here and now for those aiming to raise funding and make progress towards that better world of the future. We don't need to persuade everyone, but we do need to persuade enough people to ensure the establishment of a scientific community as well funded and active as the present cancer or stem cell research establishments:
"A 20-year-old male today has a better chance of having a living grandmother than a 20-year-old in 1900 had of having a living mother." That's according to Lauren Carstensen, director of Stanford's Center on Longevity, who spoke during a panel on longevity at FORBES' third annual Women's Summit. The panel also included Longevity Fund partner Laura Deming, AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation president Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, were varied: How have our lifespans changed in just a few generations? What's happening in longevity research right now? How can we use technology and policy not only to extend the lives we have, but also to make our golden years more, well, golden?
The panel's title, though, "The Longevity Paradox: Is Living Longer Really Better?", posed a question that was never really on the table. "I think the people on this panel will answer with a resounding yes when you consider the alternative," joked moderator Soledad O'Brien. Yet the fact remains that one of the biggest obstacles to improving longevity is convincing people it's worth the effort. Deming, who says she has been interested in longevity research since she was eight years old, gets plenty of skepticism when she tells people she funds it for a living. "People would be like, 'That is the stupidest thing I've ever heard. Why would you want to live longer?'" she said. "It was this visceral reaction to the idea that you could live a longer life."
All of the women on the panel have seen similar reactions to their work. To Lavizzo-Mourey, it's a question of "how we keep people functional their whole life." Carstensen suspects that when it comes to the years that have been added to average life expectancy, we mentally "tacked it on at the end made old age longer and nothing else." It's changing that culture that poses the biggest problem. "I think that our beliefs have not kept up with the way we are aging," explained Jenkins. "We continue to perpetuate these negative stereotypes of aging when we're not living that way every day."