THE PLANET IS GETTING OLD. WHAT ARE WE DOING ABOUT THIS ISSUE?
In 2015, when the latest statistical data on life expectancy had been issued, considering the moment of this lecture, no country in the world presented life expectancy below 50 years. What’s more, no country apart from those in Sub-Saharan Africa presented life expectancy below 60 years. What does that mean? It means that getting older is no longer a first-world problem. Aging is a reality everywhere, in rich and poor countries, and this issue should be addressed.
Aubrey De Grey argues that aging (and the suffering caused by the diseases that come with it) is one of the biggest problems in the world today. He highlights that global leaders, acting in the fields of thought, politics or science, should assume a position in this issue, sharing the responsibility for taking humanity forward in this constantly aging world.
We have achieved tremendous progress in the fight against infectious diseases, becoming healthier and improving the quality of life of most populations around the world. However, when we talk about discoveries in the field of age-related diseases, progress is very slow.
OLD AGE: A NECESSARY EVIL?
This is due, in part, to the attitude we have assumed as a society regarding old age: “it is inevitable, natural, and there is nothing we can do about it.” But this is exactly the thought questioned by Aubrey. In his work, he argues that age-related diseases disorders and the body growing old, are processes that should be fought in a different way from how science has addressed them so far.
Imagine the human body as a machine: it leaves the factory clean, with perfectly operating systems, and everything in the right place. However, with time, repetitive operations, dirt buildup, and the age of the parts, this machine wears out and fails. The longer the time, the more damages it presents, affecting the whole equipment when it eventually breakdown or stop operating completely.
It’s the same with our body. Over time, our metabolic processes incur damages, small issues here, a cell anomaly there. These “damages” begin when we are born and accumulate in our body throughout our life. And, of course, these issues will appear more intensely in our old age.
De Gray listed three ways age-related diseases are treated today:
Via geriatric medicine: this specialty seeks to heal by eliminating the problems of the body, targeting what “is not right” until the damages are eliminated from the body. However, according to Aubrey, this approach has a setback: it’s a waste of time to try and eliminate body damages, after all, they are side effects of being alive. If they can be eliminated, they’ll soon return, since they are caused by the body itself, they are accumulations after years of our life.
Via gerontology: gerontology – or the biological aspects of aging – offers preventive attention, protecting the chain of damage from the beginning. But, for Aubrey, it is not the ideal model of treatment either. After all, the human metabolism is extremely complex and we don’t fully understand its functioning. Prevention, based on forecast, does not ensure the damage accumulated with time will actually be avoided – in fact, they’ve only been postponed.
Via regular maintenance: Aubrey De Gray’s favorite solution does not propose the slowing down of body damage, nor elimination of it. He proposes to assume that such damage exists and will exist, but that it can be repaired from time to time, just like machine maintenance. The researcher explains this approach as a simple and possible conclusion – after all, we’ve done that with our homes and cars for years, for example. If we want to keep them new, we need to make adjustments. Old car collectors can keep them sometimes for more than 50 years not because their engine was made to last long, but because it has received preventive maintenance. However, the maintenance proposed by Aubrey De Gray is a little more complex. And he invites medicine to conduct further studies on this topic. It involves more than taking detox juices from time to time, it involves repair, cleaning, and even artificial replacement of cells. Are you ready for this revolution?
IT’S TIME TO TALK ABOUT AGING
This proposal may be polemical, but it raises a very important issue: we all know that old age exists and can be hard work. But why isn’t it widely discussed? Because we are reluctant to talk about this theme. Naturally, we want to postpone complex issues. No one likes to speak of heavy and uncertain things like the reality of a possible illness in our future. But it is necessary to think about this subject in a realistic manner, facing the truth of one’s own age with courage and lightness. And it can be much simpler and more liberating than it looks.
Aging is a process that will inevitably happen – and it is happening already – with all of us who survived youth. If we begin to give the necessary attention to this phase, wonderful things can come from there. The more we talk about the reality of old age, the more we will join forces, sciences and experiences to alleviate the suffering caused by aging, either through natural or technological solutions, in whatever way is best for each person. It just depends on us.