Is Ageism a Useful Explanation for Lack of Progress Towards Rejuvenation Therapies?

While ageism certainly exists, I've never really liked the use of ageism as an explanation for the lack of progress towards rejuvenation therapies, and this in an era of biotechnology in which all the fundamental puzzle pieces exist and just need to be joined together. What might be seen as ageism is perhaps just one narrow aspect of the broader truth that, beyond immediate friends and family, most people do not focus all that much on concern for others. Some of those others are old, but it isn't that they are old that produces the lack of concern. It is simply not a common trait to have strong concerns for entire classes of people that one doesn't interact with all that much. If explaining lack of progress towards treatments for aging in terms of ageism, then one also has to explain why research into age-related diseases such as cancer is so widely supported - and so on for any number of other lines of medical development.

Ageism is a reality in western societies and current views of older people are too often tinged with false beliefs and prejudices. Public authorities often consider older adults to be a burden rather than an integral segment of the population whose members must be supported. Older adults are rarely given a voice and are seldom considered when making decisions. The media has a considerable role in the propagation of ageist stereotypes and negative attitudes towards older adults, particularly in times of crisis when age is not a relevant factor. The COVID-19 pandemic has accentuated the exclusion of and prejudice against older adults. The current crisis highlights a disturbing public discourse about aging that questions the value of older adults' lives and disregards their valuable contributions to society.

Even though COVID-19 mortality rates are higher in older adults compared to other age groups, our concern is that age is being conflated with frailty and co-morbidity, which are likely to be the more important factors associated with mortality. Social media highlights older adults who sacrifice their own lives so that ventilators can be used for someone younger. When medical equipment, and hospital capacity becomes scarce, care providers may be faced with the ethical decisions about whose life takes priority and age may become a deciding factor. The United States have formally adopted the Ventilator Allocation Guidelines whereby "age may be considered as a tie-breaking criterion in limited circumstances". This may lead people to believe that an older person's life may be less valuable than that of someone younger. What will be the cost to society of the sacrificed lives of older adults?

As concerned advocates and researchers interested in aging, it is our opinion that we should be aware of and try to reduce the ageist views being propagated during COVID-19. Higher mortality rates for any group, including older adults, have devastating consequences. It's not just the preventable loss of human lives or strain being placed on our healthcare and social systems, older adults are invaluable members of society. They are a source of generational knowledge and wisdom, they contribute to the workforce in increasing numbers, they volunteer and they are key to the strength of our economies and our families. We cannot afford to be careless about these lost lives because of ageist attitudes. We need to consider what we stand to lose if we let ageism influence how we discuss and treat older adults during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.



@Reason or anybody. As you said in another post, gene therapy to inhibite myostatin in mice has been used in other studies for over a decade by now. What does it take to reach this treatment to human trails? Regulation? Maybe gene therapy isn't safe enough? Maybe it doesn't reach all the body? What is the problem here?

Posted by: Josep at May 25th, 2020 5:45 AM

I'd say it is just the good old pro-aging trance where people cannot think clearly about aging or aging research due to the need to supress the terror of death. Mention lfie extension research and they bounce back and forth between hopelessness and fear of getting their hopes up then having them dashed.Challenge them to think about it and they get into the circular argument of saying it is not possible, or if it was possible it would be bad in some way, anything to quickly escape the anixty the question is arousing.

Cancer research has patient advocates who are now dying quickly so that they cannot put death out of mind, and are motivated to find a "cure" for their particular cancer, Alzheimers does not have patient advocates as it destroys the minds of its victims. It is unfortunate that it takes a cancer diagnosis to force many people to battle through the anixity.

Personally I don't think that even a mouse (non dwarf) living to 5 years old will be enough to wake most of the general public from the pro aging trance, but as long as it awakes more profit motivated investors that won't matter too much.

Posted by: jimofoz at May 25th, 2020 6:43 AM

Up until recently there wasn't much that that could be done about aging. And the the optimal reasoning was that if there's nothing to be done stop worry about it and move on. On top of that the average human age until mid XX century was quite young. There were old geezers here and there, sometimes in the position of power. Some of them tarnished the concept by sacrificing young humans in hopes to rejuvenate themselves (For example, pope Innocent VIII bathed, and probably drunk blood of 10 years-old boys, who effectively died. Elizabeth Bathory was convicted of torturing young women/girls and was having blood showers .) Reversing or even slowing aging is widely accepted to be impossible and not worthy goal to follow. On the other hand, there is a multi-billion industry claiming to rejuvenate the skin plastic surgeons, supplement and god knows what. But serious scientists are explicitly careful not to associate themselves with such industries, though.

There are two other examples that until recently were considered impossible uphill battles. Electric cars (still inferior to internal combustion engines on many measures) and private space flight (spaceX a couple of years ago was on the brink of bankruptcy but now is about to dominate the commercial market). Anti aging has the benefit that doesn't have to be centralized in big programs, except for the final human trials and FDA approval, where it becomes pricy . The disadvantage is that the public perception is as of useless if not selfish boondogle. Everybody is talking about reducing co2 emissions but are quite shy about bringing the problems of aging.

Ironically if we can solve cancer, regeneration and aging suddenly a lot of toxic practices abolished in the past can be feasible again. Why we get scared of nuclear energy ? Because it is invisible and can cause cancer. Why we cannot use asbestos - damage to the lungs and cancer. Why we cannot implement long-term projects ? Because we cannot plan for more than 30 years due to the limited human lifespan. For biologically immortal people, even colonizing the galaxy will require perfectly feasible technological advancements and reaching 0.5% speed of light might be enough.

Posted by: cuberat at May 25th, 2020 10:34 AM

Its the pro-aging trance. We could develop a therapy that completely rejuvenates people and most people still would not believe it for a long time to come. They would just say we are lucky and "good genes".

The good news is that there is enough money flowing into start up companies (AgeX,, etc.) and the Carlson's curves nature of bio-engineering technology development driving down the cost of such research has pushed us passed the point where we no longer need an Apollo-style funded program to do it. In other words, the cost of developing anti-aging breakthroughs has dropped to the point that it is self-financing by the life extension community itself. Money has always been the impediment in life extension.

Hence we no longer have to fight the pro-aging trance from the rest of the general public.

Posted by: Abelard Lindsey at May 25th, 2020 11:55 AM

I'm not convinced that framing anti-ageing therapies as a noble endeavour or society-improving or even -saving 'cause' is helpful, if the prime purpose is to extend health-span as much and as early as possible. Defining right and wrong just polarizes people; with few things less productive than medicine becoming political or even philosophical. Pointing fingers, seeking blame or fault is truly useless in anything but litigation. I am not even convinced that people want to 'live forever' as much as they want to just keep doing what they are currently doing for as long as possible - whatever that is. Judge not lest thee be judged and then nothing gets done. The greatest 'society' value that we can ever hope to accomplish is to facilitate choice - typically the extension of one's current life values (which, hopefully when taken in aggregate is positive). Promote that. Witness the untold fortunes and development and research and experts that gravitate to something as shallow as cosmetic surgery, hair replacement, and ornamental dentistry. That is all anti-ageing needs to be. The rejuvenation of all those appearances, which can only be accomplished by true bodily system rejuvenation. Whether that definition assists in advancing drug therapies, medical procedures, and development on a different plane than other pathologies and indications requiring endless FDA red-tape is unclear but it would be interesting to investigate how various cosmetic surgery procedures became so prevalent. The bottom line: the soap box is the worst way to encourage 'solid' momentum such as funding, demand, expert attention, and research/ consideration in credible institutions.

Posted by: Jer at May 25th, 2020 12:27 PM

All very well but that's not what I and other older adults experience in our daily life. Ageism is very much alive and well and it's not going anywhere in the near future. This pandemic just highlighted what is a general view and current trend in our society.

Posted by: mcmp at May 25th, 2020 7:17 PM
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