Tuesday, April 01, 2008
ABC: "Live to Be 150" with Barbara Walters
Tonight Tuesday April 1, 2008, ABC News presented Barbara Walters narrating “Live to Be 150: Can You Do It?” The link for the show is in the 20/20 section here, authored by Barbara Walters herself.
The early part of the show did focus on the medical evidence, that reducing calories (quite severely) with supplementation might lengthen life, as well as exercise. There was a lot of discussion of the genes related to aging, and of telomeres, at the end of DNA chains. The subject of stem cells and regenerating tissues was covered. Some scientists feel that thousand year lifespans could be possible. Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman, authors of “Fantastic Voyage: The Science Behind Radical Life Extension” (2005, Plume) appeared. A company called alcor.org is saving the bodies and brains of clients ($75000) for possible rejuvenation in the future. I recall in the 1990s that Omni Magazine had an article that proposed downloading one’s brain to a computer.
In the later part of the show, there were many examples of people living vigorously into their 80s, 90s, and past 100. In fact, there are 84000 people over 100 in age now in the United States. Paul Newman (Hud) was shown as a race car driver, in real life. In the film, they also seemed physically, and especially mentally vigorous. One woman of age 102 actually took care of an 80 year old daughter who would die of cancer. Another centenarian had survived cancer three times. All did talk about “strong family.”
But it is the social values that create some paradoxes. The current eldercare and long term care crisis comes partly from the fact that a large number of elderly can live a long time while being frail and incapacitated, a relatively new situation, particularly for a "me generation" society that produces fewer children. The advocacy of longevity in this film stresses vigor and health habits that promote vigor. In such circumstances, it may not be essential to have as many children, as there will be much more time in life for one’s own pursuits. (Demographic patterns in other populations around the world could create international demographic issues, however.) Children cannot expect “inheritance” until old age themselves. While lifetime monogamous marriage has been the social “moral” ideal, especially for the sake of the next generation, much longer lifespans and personally responsible health habits could argue for the acceptability of serial monogamy. Life, rather than being a three-act play, becomes like a television series or rondo of short episodes. (Remember, though, that the Mormon Church has the ideal of eternal marriage, even in the afterlife.) The show concluded with the idea that older people could become the new "sex symbols" where longevity means accomplishment and wisdom with vigor.
Update: May 8
AARP has a story on Nicoyan indians in Costa Rica and longevity, discussion here.