The average life expectancy in Los Angeles County has risen steadily, increasing from 75.8 years in 1991 to 90.3 years in 2006. This trend signals that we are on the cusp of a revolution of improved longevity: Advances in medicine and biotechnology will radically increase not only one’s life span but also, crucially, one’s health span. According to the Census Bureau, currently, approximately 5.7 million Americans are age 85 and older: 1.8% of the population. Based on current trends, that percentage is projected to rise to 19 million, or 4.34% of the population, by 2050, based on current trends. The percentage of Americans 100 and older is projected to rise from 0.03% today to 0.14% of the population in 2050. That represents a total of 601,000 centenarians. However, many scientists think that this is just the beginning; they are working energetically to make it possible for human beings to achieve Methuselah-like life spans. They are studying the aging process itself and experimenting with ways to slow it down by way of diet, drugs and genetic therapy. They are also working on new ways to replace worn-out organs—and even to help the body to rebuild itself. The gerontologist and scientific provocateur Aubrey de Grey claims that the first humans to live for 1,000 years may already have been born.
A 2009 study found that restricting calories seems to slow aging in rhesus monkeys over a 20-year period. The scientists working on these issues respond to such concerns by stressing that their aim is not just to increase the quantity of life but its quality as well. A life span of 1,000 may be optimistic, they suggest; however, an average span of 150 years seems well within reach in the near future, with most of those years being vital and productive. One key area of research is gene therapy. Cynthia Kenyon of the University of California, San Francisco, found that partially disabling a single gene, called daf-2, doubled the life of tiny worms called Caenorhabditis elegans. Altering the daf-16 gene and other cells added to the effect, allowing the worms to survive in a healthy state six times longer than their normal life span. In human terms, they would be the equivalent of healthy, active 500-year-olds. Other researchers have made similar findings. A laboratory at the University of Arkansas genetically altered worms to live 10 times longer than normal. Spain’s National Cancer Research Center found an altogether different way to extend the lives of mice by 45%.
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Many Californians unprepared for costs of growing older (Part 1)
Many Californians unprepared for costs of growing older (Part 2)