Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Prolonging Life

"The pessimist believes that because of natural barriers in the processes, there is a limit beyond which you cannot prolong further life."
"Other schools of thought believe it's possible because there is nothing written in the gene that would stop the process of life. The debate is open."
"If you were in 1921 and we were to tell you that life expectancy in Canada would be approximately 82 years, it would be hard for you to believe that. Life expectancy is still growing in Canada, but there has been a change in the rhythm of growth."
Yves Decacy, Statistics Canada analyst
Life Expectancy
In 1921, the average life expectancy of a Canadian from birth was 57. It is now, according to a report released this week from Statistics Canada, 81.7 years of age. The most common age at life's end, recognized at 85 years of age in 2011 is referred to as the "wall of death". But it is not an unassailable wall, according to physicians and futurists who claim the wall is capable of being pushed forward, even another quarter-century.

Adding 25 years of life expectancy to one's lifespan is no mean feat. That it took almost a century to happen owes much to advances in medical-scientific knowledge and applications, along with the greater availability of nutritious food, a more educated public, the rejection of self-harm practices like smoking and drinking to excess among other critical issues. That Canadians live in peace with their neighbours and are not called to war, another issue.

Researchers now feel that without a single discovery that would influence the future of people's longevity comparable to the discovery of penicillin, the longed-for, anticipated lengthening of life will remain a dream in suspension. Even while recent medical advances have rapidly progressed and campaigns to promote healthy lifestyles have been successful, the discoveries of penicillin and insulin are alone credited along with childhood immunizations in prolonging life in general.

Almost half of all life-expectancy gains occurred in the period between 1921 and 1951. Major reductions in infant mortality resulted from mass immunization programs and the introduction of new pharmaceuticals. That fewer people are now dying before age 75 through unnatural causes or disease amounts to the second leading cause for gains in life expectancy.

According to Mr. Decady and the co-authors of his publication, Ninety Years of Change in Life Expectancy report, most progress has been achieved through public health campaigns impacting in early life, along with preventive medicine. A swift, highly significant shift in longevity occurred with the introduction of immunization and medical discoveries enabling people to live with lifelong disease, not prematurely die of them.

While the worrying issue of overweight and obesity stares us in the face as a population, we have still benefited from anti-smoking campaigns shifting cultural and behavioural changes to the better. Healthy eating and exercise management represent additional issues which have been brought to the fore and influenced a good proportion of the public.
"We're seeing more centenarians than ever before."
"If you look at news reports from 30 years ago they'll say we'd never see these kinds of numbers and we are in fact seeing them. When they say the cure for dementia's a long way off, well look at what happened with AIDS. Go back 20 years and AIDS was an automatic death sentence."
Gloria Gutman, professor emerita, Simon Fraser University, department of gerontology
At one time, Dr. Gutman points out, diabetes, arthritis and osteoporosis were deemed to be untreatable and now deeper understanding of degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's has been helpful in aiding people toward leading longer lives by steering them toward preventive measures reflecting major advances in neuroimaging and biomarkers. "That raises the possibilities of heading it off at the pass."

She is optimistic, stating "We should be celebrating the fact that the glass is half full", in response to the statistic that 40% of Canadians over 80 will developing a dementing illness. And that another federal report from last year stated that the average Canadian is destined to spend over a decade of life dealing with diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes or cancer.

Hope arises in reports such as the preliminary one coming out of Sweden and just recently published that found healthy living may slow down dementia among people at risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. In other words, what happens to us does not always occur in a complete vacuum of predestination; we are ourselves capable of informing Dame Fortune how we wish to proceed with our lives.

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