Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Experts in aging value healthspan over lifespan

Aging research made headlines when the Wall Street Journal’s Matt Ridley —@mattwridley — recently wrote about how humans may be approaching their maximum lifespan. While the number of centenarians is rising by 7 percent each year thanks to modern medicine and healthier lifestyles, the number living past 115 is not.

We asked Richard Allman, M.D., director of Center for Aging here at UAB, for this thoughts on lifespan research.

Q. Is lifespan research important?

A. If we can understand the causes of variations in life-span, we may be able to identify new ways to delay it, or to treat age-related diseases like Alzheimer's disease, atherosclerosis, cancer or diabetes. Cellular pathways associated with variations in aging rate promise to reveal disease mechanisms.

Q. Does the fact that people are living longer thanks to healthier lifestyles make them more likely to hit a genetic expiration date?

A. The evidence suggests that healthier life-styles are prolonging lives and reducing disability, but increasing obesity may reverse those trends.

Q. Will humans ever live to 150?

A. Most gerontologists agree that the maximum human lifespan is 120 years. Perhaps with scientific advances, we could see life-span increase, but should we if we cannot also prevent age-related disease and functional decline? This raises important bioethical issues. Most gerontology researchers would rather extend "healthspan" — the length of life during which an individual is healthy and functional.

Q. Taking Alabama and Birmingham as examples, how many seniors reside there?

A. According to the 2010 Census, we have 657,792 persons age 65 and older in Alabama. Of these 75,684 are age 85 or older. In 2000, there were 897 persons aged 100 or greater in Alabama. Thus, there are probably around 225 persons aged 100 or greater in the Birmingham Metro Area.

For fun, check out the Living to 100 Life Expectancy Calculator.

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