Preparing this roundup of news about aging, I searched the web and found that promising anti-aging developments include the hypoxic response, neuronal adenosine triphosphate production capacity, mitochondrial peptide Humanin, acai berries, and that old favorite, reseveratrol. The real question--and no one has answered it--is whether aging is more like heart disease or cancer. According to a recent article in the New York Times, "Advances Elusive in the Drive to Cure Cancer," (April 23, 2009), since 1950, the death rate for heart disease dropped a whopping 64 percent, while the death rate from cancer has fallen a meager 5 percent. If progress on aging mimics that of cancer--and given recent piecemeal progress, I have little reason to believe it won't--expect to read about a range of promising research with little follow through. I have little reason to believe that life expectancy will remain circa 80, and that because so many more of my baby boomer generation will reach that age, the rates of dementia will triple by 2050.
With such sobering reflections, here's a brief round up of news from the world of aging.
China Facing Aging Crisis
Currently, 16 out of 100 people in China are aged 60 or over. This will double by 2025, and quadruple by 2050, when there will be 438 million elderly with 103 age 80 or over, according to a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.. Over the last five decades, life expectancy has increased from 41 to 73. Traditional Chinese culture venerates the elderly, but there is no universal old-age pension system in this nation where per capita income remains low at $4,000--three times lower than Japan, Korea, or the United States. Failure to cope with this situation cold lead to widespread unrest and negative effects on the world economy.
Think Positive to Avoid Memory Loss
Despite my reservations about reseveratrol and other pathways to endless aging, I couldn't resist this study that brought me back to graduate school days.
Some decades ago, a study, "Pygmalion in the Classroom," seemed to indicate that when teachers were told particular students were smarter, those students earned higher grades. A similar self-fulfilling process may be at play in aging and memory loss. According to a study at North Carolina State University, if you think you will lose your memory, you may well lose your memory. "Older people will perform more poorly on a memory test if they are told that older folks do poorly on that particular type of memory test," Tom Hess, who headed the study, said. This may be a case where stereotyping--old people lose their memory--by oneself and others can have negative effects on cognition. The study found the effects of stigmatization were the greatest among those with higher levels of education.
Women Cut Back On Grocery Spending To Maintain Youthful Skin
According to two new skin care surveys, women are not scaling back on their anti-aging skin routine, despite the current state of the economy. The Economic Impact on America's Skin Care Habits, sponsored by Obagi Medical Products, Inc, a leader in physician-dispensed topical aesthetic and therapeutic skin health systems, reported that many continue to spend their hard-earned money on favorite at-home regimens, continuing with regular visits to the doctor and sacrificing other luxuries in order to do so. Further supporting this study, a recent article in Global Cosmetics Industry magazine published a forecast from Mintel, a supplier of consumer, product and media intelligence, that stated they expect a 20% increase in anti-aging skin care sales over the next five years.
Forty-one percent are the most likely to have cut back on other areas of their life, such as child care and money spent on groceries, but maintained the amount of money spent or the frequency with which they visit a dermatologist;
"The results of this survey clearly demonstrate that women are still spending the money that it takes to maintain their appearance in this uncertain economy," says Mitchel P. Goldman, MD, Board Certified Dermatologist and Medical Director at the Dermatology Cosmetic Laser Associates of La Jolla, CA
Lavishing Care on Aging Pets
It's not only skin that gets special care.
Although humans may be living only marginally longer, there have been advances in pet longevity. "Owners Lavishing Care on Aging Pets," (Daily Yomiuri, April 25, 2009) 30 percent of the 13 million pet dogs in Japan were 10 years or older--56 in human years. Hideki Hayashitani, an associate professor of Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, said his research showed that the average life span of dogs in the nation rose from 8.6 years old to 11.9 over a decade or so through 2003. During the same period, the average life span of pet cats rose from 5.1 to 9.9 years. The Japanese are spending increasingly more money on advanced medical techniques such as MRIs, CT scanning, ultrasounds, and radiation therapy. In Japan, doggy day care is provided by certified animal caregivers, Fido gets his ears scratched by a trained professional.
Other trained professionals provided counseling to owners "fatigued due to taking care of elderly dogs."
21-Year-Old Zoo Atlanta Tiger Euthanized
In a sad note, the oldest known Sumatran tiger in North America was euthanized this week due to "deteriorating physical condition."
"We are saddened by the passing of Sekayu, who was a special part of our family for 16 years," said Dennis Kelly, the zoo's president and CEO. "Our veterinary and animal management teams worked diligently to ensure that Sekayu received the best treatment and care possible. The fact that she was the oldest of her species currently on record is a testament to the excellent care she received throughout her life."
The Sumatran tiger is one of the world's most endangered species with only 400 living in the wild.
Good News for Fish, Anglers Aging
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reports that although more people are gone fishing since 2000, the overall trend is sinking. The percentage of Minnesotans who fish had dropped from 40 percent in the 1970s to 29 percent now. Better still for the fish is that the number of people ages 16 to 44 who fish is in steep decline. As baby boomers hang up their poles, the fish will breath easier--or whatever it is they do under the water.
MIT Creates Aging Experience for Engineers
I can wait, but leave it to the techno-geeks at MIT to design a device that allows the wearer to experience the effects of old age. AGNES--"Age Gain Now Empathy System"-- consists of pads and elastic wraps that hamper movement similar to the effect of arthritis and spinal deterioration. Gloves restrict the wearer's sense of touch, while earplugs, and glasses with yellow lenses diminish the ability to hear and see. Bending over to pick up that coin on the sidewalk, or stretching to reach that cereal box on the top grocery shelf, or straining to hear your granddaughter's performance on American Idol are challenges that AGNES can emulate.
"AGNES is a way of getting the designer or engineer to empathize with the consumer. This is not just about what it feels like to be old but it is meant to give insights to designers and engineers as to how to develop what's new. Chances are the lead adopters of new products and services are going to be older than they ever have been before. The adopter of a new iPod might be in his 20s but the lead adopter of the next-generation high-tech, high-style and high-price sedan or home appliance will not be a 20- or 30-year-old," said James Coughlin, director of the MIT Age Lab.