What Baboons Can Tell Us About Aging and Singles Dances

Posted on May 17, 2012

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But first, please check out The Byronic Man.  Joel, the author, took time from his busy schedule of hilarity to feature Life in the Boomer Lane in his “20 Questions” series.   If you like her answers to his questions, let her know.  If not,  she’ll change them for you.                                                                             

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In the countries with the longest life expectancies, average life span has grown over the past two centuries at the astonishing rate of about 2.5 years per decade, three months per  year, or six hours per day, according to demographer James Vaupel of Duke University and the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research.

Don’t get excited just yet. Actual people have not added six more hours per day and are generally pissed off that newborn babies, who have no responsibilities at all, will have longer days than everyone else.

“I have a lot of stuff to do all the time,” said a spokesperson for the Association of People Who Are Not Babies.  “Babies do nothing.  They lay around all day and people say how cute they are.  If you post a photo of a baby on Facebook, there will be approximately 500 comments of ‘Oh my God, my heart just stopped. That is the most beautiful baby on the planet!’ Babies just take, take, take. So why are their days longer than mine?

Aside from babies hogging all the extra time that should go to older people, what else can we learn about aging?

Centenarians, those living to age 100, are on the rise (metaphorically speaking.)  Rapidly  (again, metaphorically speaking). As a group, centenarians tend to be extreme examples of healthy aging. Researchers are studying populations in Japan, Denmark, and Hawaii that have unusually large shares of centenarians to understand what sets them apart.

Most of these ” ‘exceptional survivors’ delay major clinical diseases and disability,” according to Dr. Bradley Willcox, a University of Hawaii gerontologist. One possibility that has been suggested is that as people age, they have less of a grasp of technology.  Younger people all have smart phones and electronic schedules.  Older people don’t and so bumble through life with no specific timetable for either getting anywhere or when is the appropriate age for disease and/or disability.  One morning, they wake up and discover they have no teeth and are 100 years old.

A real conundrum is that compared with women, men are physically stronger, have fewer disabilities, and are much more likely to tell interviewers that they are in good health. When researchers analyzed 55,000 prehistoric human skeletons dating back as many as 11,000 years from sites in Scandinavia, they saw, predictably, that men lived longer than women.

Yet, in late Middle Ages (as opposed to late middle age), a shift occurred.  Men started to have higher mortality than women at all adult ages.  This discrepancy between health and survival—known as the male-female health-survival paradox—has long puzzled demographers and other researchers, and cannot be attributed solely to men being forced to wear tights and silly hoods.

Baboons can tell us a lot about aging, as long as we do not require them to speak.  As male baboons age, testosterone declines and they spend more time alone. This concept may explain human behavior as well.  A recent survey of people at singles dances for ages 35 and up, revealed two things:

1. everyone there was over the age of 50

2. women who attended these dances spent the evening dancing and socializing, while men who said they attended these dances, in reality never left their Barcaloungers.  So, at the end of the evening, the women were fit and socialized, while the men had exercised only the finger that controlled the remote and had socialized only with the pizza delivery guy.

In sum, we have learned three things: Babies make out like bandits in this whole aging thing, except real bandits are usually toilet trained and can feed themselves.  Men are the weaker sex.  Older single female baboons are probably kvetching about the same things as older single female humans.

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