As Expected, Nothing of Value Emerged at the White House Conference on Aging

The White House Conference on Aging was held a few days ago, but you didn't need to pay any attention. The event related to matters that have absolutely no bearing on the future of aging research or the future of aging itself: it focused on entitlements and organization of the process of dying, and had nothing to do with treating aging or medical research in any meaningful sense. There is a way to go yet before the ripples of revolution in scientific circles make their way to be seen by the majority of politicians and bureaucrats.

Representative governments are in essence an expression of conservatism, in the sense of seeking stasis, pursuing the preservation of the present situation. This is more or less human nature; it is the way groups of people react. There is resistance to change, even obviously beneficial change, and a desire to decorate and sustain the present status quo, no matter how terrible that status quo, no matter how it came about, and no matter how long it has been around. The inner ape seeks assurance that present circumstances have a permanence to them, that tomorrow will be the same as today. The possibility of change equates to a threat in this instinctive view of the world. We should be better than that, but put any hundred of us in a room together and we are not. The crowd is even more the ape than the individual.

Given that we live in an era of radical change, far greater than in any past age, there is considerable tension between what we can achieve with technology and instinctive conservatism. People organize to resist every prospective change that they later take full advantage of and approve of, and the acts of government employees are just one of the better reported parts of this urge to stasis. All meaningful progress happens against the will of the grumbling masses and their elected leaders, yet is instantly adopted as the new stasis the moment that people can buy the products, or the therapies, or the activities. In advocacy for rejuvenation research and the medical control of aging it is quite frustrating to listen to opponents who, were they lucky enough to be born later, would be uncritically accepting of the medicine they oppose. Were they unlucky enough to be born earlier, they would have railed against gene therapy, or heart surgery, or other important past advances that are now proudly accepted as proof of prowess in technology. It has everything to do with change and nothing to do with the matter at hand.

Moving away from opposition to progress, the flip side of the urge to stasis is support for the present situation, even if absolutely untenable. In the case of aging we are faced with a medical condition that kills 100,000 people every day, while hundreds of millions are unable to support themselves, or in chronic pain, or possessed of a heart or a mind no longer fully functional. The conservative response to that is to do nothing other than try to better organize this vast and ongoing dying: to accept it as-is, to accept the enormous waste and expenditure, pain and suffering. It is all about coping, not fixing. You'll find no sign of anything involving change for the better, or change at all for that matter, in the story presented by the government here:

White House Conference on Aging (WHCOA)

As expected, there was next to nothing at the WHCOA about aging research. At an early (April) local WHCOA meeting in Phoenix, the director of the National Institute on Aging - Dr. Richard Hodes - spoke a few minutes about the genetics of Alzheimer's, and the possibility and need for its early detection. But apparently that was about it.

Fact Sheet: The White House Conference on Aging

The HHS Health Resources and Services Administration announced that it will develop an Alzheimer's Disease and Related Dementias training curriculum next year to build a health care workforce with the necessary skills to provide high quality dementia care and ensure timely and accurate detection and diagnosis of dementia.

Care, detection, diagnosis. No mention of treatment. This is representative of all of the documents resulting from this initiative. You'll see the same in the health sections of aging.gov if you care to look. The lesson to take away here is that change for the better will never emerge from the normal machinations of government. Change comes from outside the system. If you are one of those who wants the government to participate and lead, then you have to accept that the only way to make that happen is for the research strategies you favor to become the mainstream of research or a popular cause for millions. The people who guide the direction of resources in representative governments are the very last to turn their eyes to any sort of new project.

Comments

On the bright side, the House passed the 21st Century Cures Act, which forces the FDA to ease up on some of the regulation.

Now it just needs to get past the Senate. I can't imagine Obama not signing it (although he'll probably have no idea what it actually does).

Posted by: Slicer at July 17th, 2015 1:15 PM

Thanks for posting that Slicer. I don't know how I missed that. Hopefully it gets passed and we see a somewhat meaningful degree of change.

Posted by: Ham at July 17th, 2015 1:54 PM

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