It’s no secret that average life expectancy for men and women has been steadily increasing for years. With advances in medicine, science, disease control, and other factors that affect mortality, it’s now commonplace for people to live well into their 80s and 90s, and more people than ever are hitting triple digits.
But if you read the occasional stories about the acknowledged oldest person in the world, you note that the maximums don’t seem to be advancing. You see the report on the oldest person being presented with a birthday cake with more than 110 candles, and a few months later you read that that person has gone to the great beyond and a new “oldest person in the world” has taken on that designation.
This leads scientists to wonder whether there’s a natural limit to life expectancy in humans. One recent study, which explored a mass of human mortality information, has concluded that the human life span is naturally limited to a maximum of about 115 years, and that it would be exceptionally rare for any human to hit 125. The study noted that only one human, a French woman named Jeanne Calment who died in 1997 at the age of 122, has even come close.
Some scientists pooh-pooh this conclusion, noting that the current crop of super-old codgers may have had their life expectancies affected by malnutrition or childhood diseases that have since been eradicated, and that up-and-coming generations of people who have not been exposed to such life-affecting circumstances may easily break through the 115 or even the 125 barrier. Others argue that extreme old age logically should have genetic limits, as the lives of different species of animals seemingly do. And, of course, it’s possible that new advances in medicine — such as finding a cure for cancer or the development of readily available artificial organs — could have an impact.
For now, though, I guess we’ll just have to settle for going toes up in the prime of life at the age of 115. That’s bitterly disappointing for those of us who want desperately to see the year 2100, but at least having a presumed end date of 115 will add some welcome structure to our retirement planning.