If you could turn the clock back, would you? Longevity, ageing and ageism

Ageism is in the eye of the beholder

It has already been postulated that the first human to live to 150 has already been born. Given living to 100 has been an achievement for very few, living to 150 seems almost crazy. Almost.

[This is a guest post by Leonie Sanderson of The Ageing Revolution. Find out more about Leonie at the end of this post]

longevity and ageing

Scientific advances in human longevity

Recently I listened to a very interesting panel of scientists, all of whom were working on increasing human longevity. Their guess was that within ten years’ time, there will be drugs on the market that not only extend our lives but also our overall health. As I sat there listening, the talk noted research on mice which also indicated that women’s fertility might also be able to be extended, since lab mice subjected to these particular experiments had a delayed onset of menopause. ‘Woohoo’, the perimenopausal me thought. That’d be a bonus!

Longevity are you ready for it
Is longevity desirable or not?

And then I started imagining what our lives might be like if we all knew we could live longer, delay having kids, delay all those things associated with kids – a mortgage and a stable job, settling down and at the same time, reduce our chances of getting diseases associated with ageing (like cancer, alzheimers and diabetes type II).

The reality of defeating ageing

A million questions entered my head. How would we approach work? Life? Play? Would retirement even be a thing? Would population growth slow? How would we pay for our longer lives? Would the gap between rich and poor widen even further, with those who are rich remaining youthful inside and out, and those in poverty marked by old age? What would it be like to treat age as a disease instead of a natural part of life? Would it lead to more ageism? Or an increased valuing of the experience that age naturally brings?

Is ageing a bed of roses
Is ageing a bed of roses?

These philosophical dilemmas are no longer the realm of science fiction or some distant future – remember, ten years was the conservative estimate of the experienced scientists on the panel – changing how we view ageing and health is very much a present-day reality.

Is anti-ageing just another form of ageism?

And to be really honest, I feel completely conflicted by the whole thing. While I wholeheartedly embrace ageing and the benefits it brings, there is no doubt in my mind that if a drug were available to reduce the effects of ageing, on my muscles and my organs, that I would take it. The opportunity to live a longer and healthier life is appealing, especially as I begin to notice more and more the effects that growing older has on my body. But am I being ageist?

The definition of ageism according to a number of dictionaries is: prejudice or discrimination against a particular age-group and especially the elderly. So maybe it isn’t ageism if I don’t particularly like the idea of age-related disease but like the idea of growing older free from ill-health or decline.

Ageism and women

But this is complex territory especially for women since youth and beauty and value seem to be so connected as to make ageing almost immoral. Author of ‘Perfect Me’, Heather Widdows argues ‘that our perception of the self is changing. More and more, we locate the self in the body–not just our actual, flawed bodies but our transforming and imagined ones. As this happens, we further embrace the beauty ideal. Nobody is firm enough, thin enough, smooth enough, or buff enough—not without significant effort and cosmetic intervention. And as more demanding practices become the norm, more will be required of us, and the beauty ideal will be harder and harder to resist’.

Chasing longevity
Are you chasing longevity? Cartoon by Simon Kneebone

Not keeping up with beauty ideals is hard for women even now, bombarded as we are with anti-ageing messages to fight wrinkles, hide grey hair and stay youthful and slim. I, for one, am not immune but perhaps we are all a bit paradoxical. I love my grey hair and have eschewed most skin care products designed to attack the lines since I figure, what the hell,  they’re my lines and my life. But I still ply my face with cold-pressed oils, strive for a fit body and despair at the fact that even looking at a donut now seems to add centimetres to my waistline. I love the experience ageing brings, the calm that I feel in most situations, but yearn for the days when I could party til 3am and do it all again the next day.

So viva ageing, I say. Life is here to be lived and enjoyed for as long as possible and growing older should be valued not denied. But if there’s a chance to kick cancer and menopause in the ass, then count me in!

Leonie Sanderson The Ageing Revolution
Leonie Sanderson from The Ageing Revolution

[Leonie Sanderson is the Director of The Ageing Revolution. The Ageing Revolution is a profit-for-purpose company co-founded by Leonie and her partner Simon Lowe. The Ageing Revolution aims to be the trusted authority and leader on creative change in the ageing system. Leonie and Simon believe they can make a difference to everyone’s ageing journey! They are creating a network of strategic partnerships that can disrupt the ageing system and create new, better products and services that can benefit all involved.]

Special thanks to Simon Kneebone for the cartoons.

How do you feel about ageing? Do you accept it gracefully with its pluses and minuses, or do you rail against it? Would you want to use drugs that extended your life or would you prefer to just have better quality of life but not greater longevity? What other issues do you see with these possible changes?

Older and Wiser