Mention “aging” to someone in their 50s — like me — and you’re likely to provoke a grim expression. We feel the aging process in our muscles and bones, we get that ugly twinge after a sudden move, and we see it when we look in the mirror and notice the grey hairs, the wrinkles, and the pathetic turkey neck.
But what if aging could be slowed? What if therapies and treatments could be developed that would decelerate the ravages of time, or stave it off altogether?
Scientists are looking into the possibility that gene therapy, hormone treatments, and other approaches might have that effect and have been using some of the new treatment concepts in experiments on animals. Economists believe that treatments that successfully delay aging — and thereby allow people to be productive and healthy longer — could have enormous economic consequences.
Speaking as one of the aging generation, I’m all in favor of seeing whether reasonable treatments can be developed. At the same time, however, I question whether heroic efforts should be devoted to deferring the effects of aging when there are many other public health issues that also need attention. And a public health focus on aging makes sense only if the years that are added are healthy, sane, active, non-institutionalized years. When you regularly visit a nursing home and see how many Americans are living their final years, you can legitimately question whether living longer is inevitably a great thing.