A Bleak Outlook on Aging

As illustrated by this study, most people don't think about their own future aging, and when they do they are unaware that we stand on the verge of new medical technologies that will greatly extend healthy life spans. We humans have evolved a masterful ability to avoid thinking about the future when it looks likely to be unpleasant. That is a useful trait when the unpleasant future is inevitable and unavoidable, as was the case for aging and age-related disease for the entirety of human history. Now, however, when it has become possible and plausible to produce effective rejuvenation therapies in the decades ahead, this ability to put the future out of sight and out of mind works against us. It is hard to get people to commit to planning and support of rejuvenation research in the matter of adjusting the course of their own future aging, even when the adjustment is entirely beneficial: everything they have been taught when young, formally and informally, has led them to put away considerations of later life as an ugly thing that they don't want to think about. Yet in reality, and as a further confounding outcome, people are happier when older, up to the point at which the decline into ill health becomes very evident and a real struggle. That effect is probably a measure of just how much value we place on financial security and a higher position in the hierarchy of society; from the perspective of contentment, these aspects of later life can outweigh the decline of health and function for a large fraction of a life span. This, again, may well be another reason why it is hard to obtain support to bring an end to aging.

Why do some people want to live a very long time, while others would prefer to die relatively young? A team of researchers investigated how long young and middle-aged adults in the United States say they want to live in relation to a number of personal characteristics. The results showed that more than one out of six people would prefer to die younger than age 80, before reaching average life expectancy. There was no indication that the relationship between preferring a life shorter or longer than average life expectancy depended on age, gender or education. The study is one of the first to investigate how younger adults perceive and anticipate their own aging. Using data from a telephone survey of over 1600 adults aged 18 to 64 years, the authors also found that one-third would prefer a life expectancy in the eighties, or about equal to average life expectancy, and approximately one-quarter would prefer to live into their nineties, somewhat longer than average life expectancy. The remaining participants said they hope to live to 100 or more years. Participants were on average 42 years old, half were women and 33 per cent were university graduates.

"We were particularly interested in whether how long people want to live would be related to their expectations about what their life in old age will be like." The results, which were controlled for overall happiness, confirmed that having fewer positive old age expectations was associated with the preference to die before reaching average life expectancy. On the contrary, having fewer negative old expectations was associated with the preference to live either somewhat longer or much longer than average life expectancy. "Having rather bleak expectations of what life will be like in old age seems to undermine the desire to live up to and beyond current levels of average life expectancy. People who embrace the 'better to die young' attitude may underestimate their ability to cope with negative age-related life experiences as well as to find new sources of well-being in old age."

Link: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-08/cums-hld082416.php


I don't think this survey says much about people's willingness to embrace rejuvenation therapies. It doesn't even invite their consideration at all. If I were convinced that no such therapies would come into existence in my lifetime I wouldn't want to live much past 70. That puts me in their "better to die young" group, yet I am a supporter of indefinite healthy lifespans and rejuvenation biotechnology.

Posted by: José at August 26th, 2016 8:02 AM

Reason, you know this stuff means absolutely nothing. The question "Do you want eternal youth?" actually has more meaning.

Posted by: Slicer at August 27th, 2016 4:59 PM

It's not just that they don't think about it, it's that nobody believes it can happen, so they don't really have an opinion. Once the first real working rejuv treatment is out, that'll get the ball rolling and then _everyone_ will have an opinion.

Posted by: Drakonis at August 28th, 2016 6:29 PM

The public is never going to support the initial work. They are only interested if such things are available now, they do not care about supporting something they do not think about. They will care once it arrives and they will use it without question because it will just be more medicine.

Trying to create huge social change is a waste of effort, it is far better in my view to expand our influence into adjacent communities, disease support groups and those who are potentially open to the ideas of rejuvenation biotechnology. Grassroots has already made great inroads in the last year and if we can attract investors we have no need to convince the mass general public.

It is better for us to focus our efforts on the most efficient approaches and target the low hanging fruit in terms of potential supporters.

Posted by: Steve Hill at August 29th, 2016 6:54 AM

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