US older folk are sicker, but they live longer than Brits, new survey finds

The elderly in the United States are sicker than older people in the UK, but they also live longer, a new study found.

Americans aged 55 and older suffer from a higher rate of chronic illness, but Brits are more likely to die younger, says research from the US’s RAND Corp.and the Institute for Fiscal Studies in Britain.

olderrunners.jpgThe findings have stirred up the long-standing debate over which country has the better health care system.

Study co-author, James Smith, an economist at RAMD said: “If you get sick at older ages, you will die sooner in England than in the United States. It appears that at least in terms of survival at older ages with chronic disease, the medical system in the United States may be better than the system in England.””

But Americans have to pay fare more than Brits for their healthcare – nearly double, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The most recent data, from 2008. shows that the America spent 16 percent their total expenditure on health, which amounted to $7,538 a person. The average health-care cost per person in OECD member nations is $3,000

Longevity expert Dr. Walter M. Bortz, author of Road Map to 100,” “Living Longer for Dummies” and a new book about health care called “Next Medicine” said: “Americans love to be sick. America is sicker because we love to go to the doctor, but the doctor loves to see us too,” he said. “We spend twice as much as any other country of the world – and we’re not better for it.That’s prolonging dying.”

The research also looked at the results from two studies of aged 50+: the Health and Retirement Survey, which examined more than 20,000 people, and the English Longitudinal Survey of Ageing, which covered 12,000 people. They looked at age of death, the ages at which new illnesses developed and the rates of common chronic conditions including heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, cancer, lung disease and diabetes.

The study published in the journal Demography, found that rates of cancer were more than double for Americans than for the British, 17.9 percent in America compared to 7.8 percent in the UK.  The British had nearly half as many cases of diabetes than the Americans, 10.4 percent compared to 17.2 percent.

Though the death rates were almost the same among American and English people aged 55 to 64, those aged 70 to 80 died earlier in the UK compared to the US. The reearch team said the results showed that Americans lived longer despite being plagued by more disease.

“The differences are striking,” another of the article’s authors, James Banks of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, told Reuters. “That’s got to be an important priority for policy in terms of lifestyle or behavioral factors.”

Health care in the UK is provided by the Government-funded National Health System, which has come under fire and has been used as a bad example of a public health-care system by critics of President Obama’s plan.

Smith said the US system is better at treating sick people and prolonging their lives than the British one, even though it is not as good in at preventing them from getting ill.

“We are consecrated to repair in America,” said Bortz. “We should be consecrated to prevention.”

He believes there is a secret to a longer life.

“Aging is no longer an unknown. It comes down to fitness,” said Bortz, who just ran the Boston marathon for his 80th birthday. “Fitness is a 30-year age offset.”

Stroke the silent killer – new guide for victims and carers


Are you at risk from the the third leading killer of young and old alike?

Discover a life transforming view of life after stroke, and discover new and beautiful ways to improve the quality of your life, even in the face of adversity…

Have you already suffered a stroke, or witnessed the struggles of a family member that has suffered, and want supportive, helpful and encouraging information that will allow you to lead an improved quality of life?

Every year for thousands of people stroke becomes a silent killer. For those lucky enough to survive, life following a stroke can be filled with pain, sorrow and feelings of loss and abandonment.

Fortunately, there are ways to overcome those feelings and limitations, and discover a new independence; one that you will discover is rich and rewarding.

Each year thousands of people become victims of stroke but can fail to recognize the early warning signs…

• Sudden weakness in your arm, leg or hands.
• The impression that you are not able to feel one side of your face or body.
• Difficulty seeing or experienced temporarily blurriness from one eye.
• Difficulty walking or experiencing balancing problems.
• The worst headache of your life…

If you have experienced one or more of the symptoms above, your life may be at risk. Stroke is increasingly prevalent in modern times. Call your doctor immediately or visit the nearest ER!

The impacts of stroke can be devastating for the more than
700,000 people that suffer from stroke each year.

The good news is when armed with knowledge and information; you can learn to lead an extraordinary life even following a devastating stroke. One of the most important desires stroke survivors have is the ability to regain an independent lifestyle.

How is this achieved? It is often achieved through rehabilitation, support and counselling, as well as caring for one’s individual health related problems following a stroke.

“The only work that will ultimately bring any good to any of us is the work of contributing to the healing of others…“
Adapted from M. Williamson

Friends and loved ones can also find they are confused about how to cope with a loved one’s loss. Fortunately, there is help and guidance just a moment away. Everyone can learn to heal others and heal their own sense of loss by learning more about life following a stroke.

“Life After A Stroke” is a moving, tell-all guide that teaches survivors, caregivers and close family how to cope with the after effects of a stroke. Using this guide you can learn how to regain some of your independence and improve the quality of your life to the greatest extent possible. It is available in standard and mp3 format for your convenience.

Imagine what your life would be like if you could learn to communicate with others in a sensible, logical and non-frustrating manner after a stroke…

While you may not return to the state of health you were in before, there is much evidence suggesting with proper knowledge and information, you can lead a rich and rewarding life after a stroke.

Are you ready to take back your life, or help another to do so?

Perhaps you are a caregiver looking for guidance and support while caring for a family member or loved one suffering from stroke. No matter the case, you’ve landed in just the right place to find the information you need.

Introducing a Revolutionary New Approach To Healing…Find out how to
improve the quality of YOUR life and that of your loved ones,
by adopting a few simple, common-sense strategies.

In this unique and gentle approach to Stroke, learn everything there is to know about stroke whether a survivor, friend, family member or caregiver.

This important guide contains information that will:

• Educate you about the immediate after – effects of stroke, so you know what to expect and how to overcome setbacks in the early weeks following a stroke.
• Teach you how to set goals following a stroke that will speed the progression of your healing.
• Help you understand what rehabilitation is all about, including what forms of rehabilitation are available and how they can improve your quality of life and standard of living.
• Help you discover and learn new and innovative tools for treating the physical symptoms of stroke, including spasticity and muscle pain.
• Tell you about new ways of treating old problems, including use of a popular cosmetic procedure that may reduce muscle tightness and help improve coordination and balance.
• Teach you what ITB therapy is and how it can improve delivery of targeted medications to your system, so you feel better faster, longer.
• Show you how to set up an individual approach to rehabilitation that aligns with your personal needs, goals and interests.

Learn how to avoid future strokes

Someone who has had a stroke is almost twice as likely to experience another. Learn the 2 most important steps you can take to prevent future strokes and enhance your odds for an improved quality of life following stroke.

Friends, Family and Caregivers

Friends, family and caregivers also need support and guidance during the period of time following a stroke. The good news is in Life After Stroke, you can learn how to communicate and reevaluate each member of a household’s roles, so everyone enjoys an improved quality of life when caring for a loved one.

Most importantly, Life After Stroke offers hope for the future. When you have nowhere else to turn, you always have hope.

You can find more information here:

British company grows living skin

London: A British company claims it has grown the “first artificial living skin graft”.

The firm, Intercytex, says the development is a ‘clinical breakthrough in regenerative medicine’ following early-stage trial results, which were published yesterday.

The technology, known as ICX-SKN could offer new hope for burns and wound victims and could be one of the first cell-based therapies to be approved under a new European regulation.

Currently the only solution for serious burns is to take skin grafts taken from the patient’s own body, however, it is a painful and traumatic process that creates an additional wound.Various synthetic forms of skin have been developed, with variable success in long-term healing.

ICX-SKN is made up of human dermal fibroblasts (a skin cell precursor) in a matrix of collagen, produced by the cells themselves.

To create the matrix, Intercytex takes a product made by Baxter called Tisseel, which is a combination of fibrinogen and thrombin (extracted from human blood) and mixes it with living human fibroblasts taken from neonatal skin – discarded foreskins in fact.

This liquid formulation is then poured into a dish, where the thrombin reacts with the fibrinogen to make fibrin, and after 15 minutes forms a gel.

This gel is then left to incubate for six weeks and the living fibroblasts that are trapped within the gel slowly break down the fibrin. At the same time they systhesise the collagenous matrix.

“It is a physical structure, but it is changing slowly,” Dr Paul Kemp, Intercytex’ founder and chief scientific officer told

At the end of the incubation period, the resulting matrix sheet (which is about 1mm thick) is removed from the dish, packaged and stored ready for use.

Intercytex’ scientists said they believe that the combination of living human fibroblasts in a human fibroblast-produced matrix “underpins the integration and acceptance of ICX-SKN by the host skin.”

In the Phase I trial, conducted in London by a third party organisation, a full-thickness skin sample (1.5cm x 1cm) was excised from the upper arm of six volunteers and replaced with ICX-SKN. After 28 days both visual and histological analysis showed that in all volunteers the grafts were rapidly vascularised and overgrown with the hosts’ own cells, resulting in a fully integrated skin graft that had closed and healed the wound site, the firm said.

Results of the trial were published yesterday in the July issue of Regenerative Medicine.

Phase II efficacy trials in larger wounds with a view to generating data that would enable progress to pivotal trials are now planned for the end of the year. The results of these tests will obviously give a better indication as to whether this new therapy is actually better than other synthetic products on the market, because it is more difficult to heal real burns and wounds in patients than it is to heal small, surgically-created wound in healthy volunteers.

Kemp said he was unsure whether they will be carried out in Europe or the US – the company is looking to eventually commercialise the product in both markets. The picture is hazy on the issue of its regulatory pathway though.

At the moment, the product is being treated in Europe as a regular medicine, although the European Medicines Agency (EMEA) is due to release a new guideline covering the regulation of cell- or gene-based therapies (advanced therapeutic medicinal products: ATMP) by the end of the year. After this point, the product will follow the new regulatory pathway.

“We don’t know yet exactly what this new regulation will involve, however, I think it will be pretty similar to the process for regular medicines with a few slight changes,” said Kemp.

This is because cell- or gene-based therapies have specific nuances, such as they can’t be terminally sterilised because they contain living cells, he said.

In the US, Kemp said he was unsure whether it would be classed as a biologic or a device because the firm has not yet asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and there is no pathway that deals specifically with cell- or gene-based therapies.

The market for such products is fairly new, and although it has so far been limited by an inability to create tissues in the laboratory that are recognised as natural and can be fully integrated into the body, it is beginning to show promise.

A recent US Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) report states that the worldwide market for regenerative medicine is conservatively estimated to be $500bn (€371bn) by 2010.

World’s oldest person dies at 114

Hartford: The world’s oldest person, Emma Faust Tillman, has died in the US aged 114.

Mrs Tillman, the daughter of former slaves, died “peacefully” on Sunday night, said an official at a nursing home in Hartford, Connecticut.

Mrs Tillman had lived independently until she was 110 and had never smoked or drank, her family and friends said.

She only became the world’s oldest person last week, after the death of a 115-year-old man in Puerto Rico, the Guinness Book of World Records said.

“She was a wonderful woman,” said Karen Chadderton, administrator of Riverside health and Rehabilitation Center in Hartford.

Mrs Tillman had been very religious and had always attributed her longevity to God’s will, according to her family and friends.

She was born on 22 November 1892 on a plantation near Gibsonville in North Carolina.

In an interview with a local historical society in 1994, Mrs Tillman said her parents had been slaves.

Longevity appears to be common in Mrs Tillman’s family – three of her sisters and a brother lived past 100.

Japan’s Yone Minagawa, who was born in 1893, is now believed to be the world’s oldest person.

Life begins at 100 say longevity experts

Bali: Medical breakthroughs hold out the prospect of living longer and healthier lives, with current life span norms set to be turned on their head, according to anti-ageing experts.

“Life begins at 100? This is an unthinkable today, but in the future, 100 can be pretty young,” Robert M. Goldman, chairman of the American Academy of Anti-Ageing Medicine, told a conference on the resort island of Bali.

Stem cells, nanotechnology, genetic engineering and therapeutic cloning are being used in the relatively new field of anti-ageing medicine.

Goldman instanced a calendar with naked pictures of actress Sophia Loren at the age of 71 wearing only a pair of earrings underlined how perceptions of age had changed.

“If somebody told you 14 years ago that they were going to have a former sex symbol pose in earrings only, you would have been disgusted or you would have closed your eyes,” he said. “Today she looks great at the age of 71.”

Stem cell therapy will allow people to regain lost hair, remove wrinkles by renewing skins, and grow new nerves for paralysed patients, Michael Klentze, director of the Klentze Institute of Anti-Ageing in Munich, Germany, told Reuters.

Stem cells have the ability to act as a repair system for the body, because they can divide and differentiate, replenishing other cells as long as the host organism is alive.

“People who have hair loss they can hope in the next months they’ve got new hair, not strange hair, but their own hair,” he said.

He said a new method called proteomic diagnostics could detect prostate cancer through a urine test years before regular scans discovered it.

“We can stop the progress of a prostate cancer and we don’t need a biopsy or anything else. No operation, no nothing.”

He said people had different risk factors depending on gene mutations inherited from their ancestors and if these factors were identified and measured correctly, people could expect to live longer and healthier.

“If you measure these very exactly, then you know very early you should change your lifestyle. But it is very important not to start this when you’re 85 years, but start at 40 or 45,” he said.

Klentze disputed, however, Goldman’s concept of life beginning at 100.

“There’s a limit to how long you can live. It’s not possible and it’s not what we want. We want a normal life, 85 or whatever but healthy,” he said.

“US males are more into life extension, they’re talking about life extension, living 150 years. For the Europeans, it’s more live a good life, vital and healthy.”

Both these experts will speak at Anti-Ageing London, a conference held at the Royal College of Physicians in Wimpole Street London from 15-17 September – for more information go to

Americans living longer than ever

Atlanta: Americans are living longer than every before, according to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Controla nd Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. The average US life expenctancy is now a record 77.9 years.

The total number of deaths declined by almost 50,000, or 2.4%, from 2003 to 2004, the largest one-year drop in several decades, according to a preliminary report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.

The last time the number of deaths fell instead of rose was in 1997, when there were 445 fewer deaths than in 1996.

Arialdi Minino, one of the authors of the report said: “The risk for dying in general in the U.S. population is decreasing,” Minino said. “The decrease from 2003 to 2004 was particularly sharp, and we’re still scratching our heads a little bit” as to why.

The life expectancy of Americans born in 2004 rose to 77.9 years from 77.5 years in 2003, making it the highest on record.

The gender gap is narrowing as well. Life expectancy for women is 80.4 years on average, up from 80.1 years in 2003. Men born in 2004 can expect to live 75.2 years, up from 74.8 years. The 5.2-year difference between the sexes was the smallest since 1946, the report said.

Dr. Robert Butler, president of the International Longevity Center and professor of geriatrics at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York, said it’s too soon to get excited about the one-year snapshot.

“I hope it’s a trend because not only are people living longer but with fewer disabilities,” he said.

A greater emphasis on controlling high cholesterol and high blood pressure with drug therapy along with declining smoking rates may be contributing to rising life expectancy, Butler said. But he noted that Americans still live shorter lives than residents of Scandinavian countries, France, Japan, Greece and Spain, and that obesity and its related health problems remain a serious threat to life-expectancy gains.

Many older people take better care of their health than the younger generations, he said. “Maybe it’s proximity to the possibility of death that gets people to behave better.”

On the other end of the age spectrum, the overall infant mortality rate was 6.7 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2004, a small increase from 2003, though the change wasn’t statistically significant, Minino said.

The infant mortality rate for blacks dropped 2.6% to 13.65 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2004, down from 14.01 deaths per 1,000 births in 2003.

Life expectancy for blacks born in 2004 improved as well but still trails that for whites. African Americans can expect to live 73.3 years, up from 72.7 years in 2003. Whites are likely to make it to age 78.3, up from 78 the year before, according to the report.

Some of the most prodigious killers such as heart disease and stroke appeared less lethal in 2004.

The number of deaths from heart disease, the nation’s No. 1 killer, dropped 6.4% to about 654,000, and cancer fatalities were down 2.9% to about 550,000, the report said.

Flu and pneumonia caused 7.3% fewer deaths in 2004 compared with 2003, while the number of deaths from stroke saw a 6.5% decline. Even those caused by accidents, the fifth leading cause of death, edged down 1.9%.

Still, decreases weren’t across the board. Deaths from high blood pressure rose 2.7% and those from Alzheimer’s disease increased 1.4% from 2003 to 2004, according to the report.

Far from being a burden on public programs such as Medicare and Social Security, the ability to live longer has produced a powerful market of older workers and consumers that companies are just beginning to court, Butler said.

“There’s been a huge boost because of increased longevity with housing, assisted living, travel, health care, financial services,” he said. “The Japanese call them the silver industries. We call them the mature market. Corporations are starting to realize this is a real boost economically.”

Butler said he’s hopeful that awareness campaigns and lifestyle changes will help start to reverse the nation’s obesity problem. “If it continued as the present, we would lose two to five years of life expectancy and it would be first time parents would live longer than their kids.”

Delay in cancer drug treatment for UK women

London: Victims of breast cancer face an agonising three-year wait on the UK’s National Health Srvice for a drug hailed as the biggest breakthrough in 30 years. Doctors say Arimidex could save or prolong the lives of thousands of women.

It dramatically reduces the chances of the cancer spreading and cuts the risk of severe side- effects. But a decision on approving the drug is not due until March 2007.

Between now and then, the disease will claim the lives of nearly 30,000 women. At least 10,000 new patients a year would be suitable for Arimidex while thousands of others could switch treatments.

The annual bill for each woman’s treatment would be £800, compared to about £70 for tamoxifen, the current standard treatment.

After stunning trial results were unveiled yesterday, doctors want Arimidex to become the first-line therapy for early breast cancer in postmenopausal women.

But NHS patients will have to wait – unless they go private and can find a specialist prepared to prescribe the drug.

At the moment, it is only allowed for women who cannot tolerate tamoxifen and for advanced cancer cases.

Drug regulatory officials are considering whether to license Arimidex for initial therapy.

But even then, it still has to be approved by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence before being prescribed widely.

Its decision is not due before March 2007, leaving thousands of women uncertain if they are getting the best treatment.

Professor Jeffrey Tobias, one of the trial investigators, said: ‘It is clear that if Arimidex prevents the disease recurring at distant sites in the body, there is a good chance the cancer won’t come back at all.

‘More women would be surviving for longer periods, free of disease and possibly cured.’

Dr Tobias, Professor of Cancer Medicine at University College and Middlesex School of Medicine, said breast cancer therapy was at a turning point.

‘For the first time, we have a more effective and safer treatment than tamoxifen,’ he said.

‘It’s very unusual for something to emerge that is much more effective than the standard therapy.’

Although tamoxifen was cheaper, Arimidex was ‘good value for money’, he added.

Data from the biggest study of its kind showed that women on the new drug have a 10 per cent higher survival rate after five years of treatment.

It cuts the chances of breast cancer recurring by 26 per cent – over and above the 50 per cent reduction provided by tamoxifen.

Women also run less risk of the cancer spreading to distant parts of the body.

Serious side-effects, such as endometrial cancer and bloodclotting disorders, are also significantly lower. Doctors predict Arimidex will become a bigger life-saver than tamoxifen, which is credited with helping more than 20,000 British women survive since its launch in the 1980s.

Early indications suggest the death rate might be cut by a further 13 per cent compared with tamoxifen.

Study leader Anthony Howell, of the Christie Hospital, Manchester, said patients on tamoxifen should be switched to Arimidex at the ‘earliest opportunity’.

Each year, 41,000 women in the UK develop breast cancer – 30,000 of them after the menopause.

A total of 100,000 would be eligible for the new drug.

Arimidex only helps patients after the menopause as it works by shutting down the body’s supply of the female hormone oestrogen.

Professor Jack Cuzick, of Cancer Research UK, which helped fund the study, said: ‘We are very excited by these results.’

Dr Sarah Rawlings, of the charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: ‘Tamoxifen has made a big impact but other treatment like Arimidex could also make a big difference.’

Sue Green, of CancerBACUP, said: ‘Women taking tamoxifen should be assured that the treatment is very effective. Anyone concerned should discuss it with their doctor.

‘We would also urge NICE to assess the data urgently so health professionals are given clear guidance.’

Tamoxifen is cheaper as it has been available in generic form for years.

Arimidex has cost millions to develop and is protected by a patent.

The study results were announced at a conference in the U.S. and on the website of medical journal The Lancet.

Lead in water pipes may cause cataracts, say US scientists

Lead in drinking water pipes could increase the risk of cataracts, it has emerged.
Researchers claim a build-up of lead in the body over the years from older plumbing systems could help trigger the eye disorder.

U.S. scientists working on the Normative Ageing Study in Boston checked lead levels in 795 men with an average age of 69. Cataracts were found in 122 of them.

They discovered that men in the top fifth of the lead level range were almost three times more likely to have a cataract than those in the bottom fifth.

The team, who published their findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association, said: ‘Results suggest that cumulative lead exposure is a risk factor for cataracts. Reduction of lead exposure could help decrease the global burden of cataracts.’

Cataracts cause the eye lens to cloud over, leading to impaired vision or even blindness. Threequarters of people aged over 85 have a cataract bad enough to affect their sight, with women more likely to be affected than men.

Anita Lightstone, head of eye health at the Royal National Institute for the Blind, said: ‘We would not wish people to be unduly alarmed as in a large number of cases cataracts can be removed with an operation and good vision can be restored.’

Another American study – published yesterday in the Journal of Nutrition – suggests eating dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and kale, can help prevent cataracts.

Humans could live 5000 years say scientists

Blame it on boomers – people born between 1946 and 1965. The baby boom generation now makes up more than a quarter of the US population population -some 77.5 million people, with more than 160,000 in San Diego. One-third are over age 50.

Every seven seconds, another boomer joins that group. In just seven years, the first boomers will hit official retirement age. By 2030, boomers 65 and older will represent one in every five people.

For them, 65 will be the new 45. Or so they hope, and so many claim.

From self-described anti-aging institutes to miracle elixirs to how-to manuals for living a century or more, boomers (and just about everyone else) want to live longer than those in previous generations.

These days, the average American has a life expectancy of 76.9 years — a little more for females, a little less for males.

Most people, of course, want to live much longer than the average. But what are the odds of living to the century mark and beyond? And how much beyond is possible?

The good news is that most scientists think human life expectancies can be substantially stretched. The not-so-good news, some experts say, is that the estimated maximum human life span — about 125 years — seems fairly fixed and that most of us will never get close.

“Longevity is really a modern phenomenon,” said S. Jay Olshansky, a demographer and biologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “The vast majority of humans ever born died before the age of 10, usually from infectious diseases.

“We’ve done fabulous things to boost the survival rates of the young — improved sanitation, new medicines — but now it’s a whole different ballgame. It’s not so easy to add 70 years of life to somebody who’s already 70 years old.”

No doubt. But a number of scientists and doctors think it’s too early to start talking about a “finished” line. They assert, in principle, that there is no maximum human life span.

Aubrey de Grey, a biogerontologist at the University of Cambridge in England, says that under the right circumstances, humans born in the 22nd century (just 96 years away) could live up to 5,000 years.

De Grey, who advocates using technology to develop a “true cure for aging,” is indisputably at the optimistic extreme. But plenty of others see longer lives ahead.

“I think people will someday live substantially longer than today,” said Steven Austad, a biologist at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in San Antonio. “(Living) into your 100s will be fairly routine, up to 150 for the outlier (a longer-lived person who is the exception to the rule). I think this because we have been so successful at figuring out how to make animals live longer.

“The arguments (against appreciably longer life spans),” he added, “are based so far as I can tell on ignoring a huge pile of research done over the past 15 years and the mystical belief that longevity, unlike every other human trait we know of, is impossible to change.”

Wear and tear

In biological terms, aging is usually defined as the accumulation of random damage to the building blocks of life, most notably DNA. The damage starts in early childhood and accelerates after age 30 or 40.

Over time, the accrued, unfixed damage impairs bodily functions. Cells, tissues, organs and systems work less well.

The immune system of a typical 65-year-old, for example, is only one-tenth as effective as that of a teenager. With less protection comes greater vulnerability to disease.

“Aging, in our view, makes us ever more susceptible to such ills as heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and cancer,” Olshansky wrote, along with Leonard Hayflick, a gerontologist at the University of California San Francisco, and Bruce A. Carnes, a professor of geriatric medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, in an online essay published this year by Scientific American magazine.

But conditions like heart disease are age-related, not the actual equivalent of aging, the scientists note. And aging is not the same as longevity.

Even if modern medicine could eradicate all the leading causes of death among the elderly, says Hayflick, an early pioneer in gerontology research, human life expectancy would increase no more than 15 years.

People would still age, he said. Other afflictions would rise up to exact their deadly toll. The maximum human life span would remain unchanged.

Age-old questions

If scientists want to boost that maximum life expectancy of about 125 years, most experts say, they’ve first got to solve the questions of how we age and why.

All organisms age, but the process, called senescence, is variable and, in some species such as the giant tortoise and rougheye rockfish, it’s virtually negligible.

The tortoise is known to live for 150 years or more; the rockfish more than two centuries. Both exhibit almost no signs of aging.

Variable senescence among species suggests to researchers that there are biological mechanisms, as yet undiscovered or understood, that might be altered, replaced or removed to effectively slow or even reverse aging in humans.

De Grey at the University of Cambridge says biotechnology is the answer.

He thinks current and foreseeable medical technologies, from drugs that repair or prevent cellular damage to organ regeneration and replacement, may soon be able to reverse the effects of aging. He predicts that researchers will actually do so in mice during this decade.

“Intervention to remove the accumulating damage . . . has the potential to postpone aging indefinitely,” he said.

A big key will be genes, which researchers say dictate and exert influence over roughly 30 percent of the aging process.

“As we begin to learn more about genetics, we see that there perhaps are certain genes that enable people to cope better with stress, react better to hormones and possibly regulate the rate of aging,” said Dr. Robert Butler, president of the International Longevity Center-USA, a New York City-based think tank.

Scientists are pushing hard to find such genes.

In 2001, Harvard University physicians and molecular biologists conducted tests on people who were all at least 90 years old and found they shared one or two genes on a specific chromosome. The exact function of these genes, however, has not been determined.

More recently, Olshansky and colleagues have launched a global project to identify so-called longevity genes by sampling DNA from exceptionally elderly people in places where very long life spans are common, such as Okinawa, Japan; the Vilcabamba valley in Ecuador; and the Hunza region of Pakistan.

Such efforts, though, won’t mean more birthdays for everyone anytime soon.

Most researchers are skeptical that there will ever be a one- stop genetic remedy. They note that aging involves lots of other factors, not to mention the considerable ethical and social issues attached to significantly modifying the human genome.

“Is the purpose of medicine and biotechnology, in principle, to let us live endless, painless lives of perfect bliss?,” the President’s Council on Bioethics asked in a report last year. “Or is their purpose rather to let us live out the humanly full span of life within the edifying limits and constraints of humanity’s grasp and power?”

The council expressed concern that a world full of centenarians and a diminished sense of mortality might result in problems no one can imagine or resolve.

Others suggest that such worries miss a more pertinent point.

Tom Perls, a geriatrician who runs the New England Centenarian Study, says most people are already genetically well-equipped to live reasonably healthy lives well into their 80s. The only requirement: They take good care of themselves.

Dr. Dilip V. Jeste, director of the Stein Institute for Research on Aging at UCSD, agrees.

“The obstacles over which we have control (of aging) are primarily environmental and behavioral,” Jeste said. “These include smoking, use of drugs of abuse as well as excessive alcohol, sedentary habits, poor nutrition, etc.

“The prevention of hypertension, diabetes and obesity may help increase life span significantly,” he said. “Resilience, optimism, adaptation to changing circumstances and optimal coping style are also important.”

Jeste said the focus of aging science should be less about extending life spans and more about making aging a “successful process associated not only with longevity, but also with a high level of activity of brain and mind.”

The record for the longest documented life is held by Jean Calment, who died in France in 1997. She was 122. The last years, however, were not kind. She was blind, deaf, incontinent and unable to care for herself.

Quantity wasn’t quality, and Calment most likely longed for the youth of her 90s.