Death and Other Avoidable Things

Posted on January 5, 2022

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Unlike taxes, the GOP, racial injustice and idiotic comments on neighborhood listservs, Death does appear to have a cure. Well, not actually a cure, but a possible delay. Death procrastinators can take heart that wills, farewells and the honoring of IOUs may be able to be put off indefinitely, if we play our cards right.

Outside of nuclear holocaust, too much CNN viewing and the ever-present threat of murderous buses, humans can live between 120 and 150 years. Heather Whitsen, Director of Duke University Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development, asks “What’s the longest life that could be lived by a human complex system if everything else went really well, and it’s in a stressor-free environment?’”

Perceptive readers may have caught the term “stressor-free” in the above quote and suggested that, aside from white American men in the 1950s, there has been no time in human history that life has been stressor-free. But this explanation would take entirely too much time to delve into and would bring up a lot of unsavory thoughts. Those same readers may take exception to the term “human complex system” as well, since humans have, in recent years, become less and less complex, having devolved mostly into sound bites and bitmojis.

No matter. This blog post has to end in a timely manner, in order for LBL to continue her other (important) pursuits. For that reason, she will ignore the perusings of her readers and will simply go on. In a nutshell, a Singapore-based company called Gero found that as age increased, some factor beyond disease drove a predictable and incremental decline in the body’s ability to return blood cells or gait to a stable level after a disruption. In other words, akin to LBL’s journey to a restaurant rest room, the body can no longer find its way back to the place where it began. Trauma to the body works the same way. A young person’s response to trauma is swift. Old people are too busy trying to remember if they took their pills to jump start the recovery process. Oldies will be amused to know that this slide starts as early as 35-40 years. This dovetails with the end of most athletic careers.

If this blog post is starting to feel like a bait-and-switch, stay with LBL a bit longer. Research is gaining from how to extend life to how to make that longer life less impaired. Senescent cells (think of these as tiny little microscopic people with walkers, invading all of your organs, etc). These are cells that could once replicate to repair aging tissue but have now lost that capacity to do so due to internal damage. It turns out that they degrade surrounding tissue by secreting harmful molecules. Science now knows that accumulated senescent cells can be tossed out, walkers and all. This is huge.

Our bodies, as well as the ends of our chromosomes (call telomeres), get shorter over a lifetime. Shortened bodies don’t mean that much, but shortened telomeres mean more risk of disease. An enzyme, “telomerase” can elongate telomeres, resulting in better bone density and control of blood sugar. A host of other recent discoveries has shown ways to prevent the predictable decline of immune cells, eye cells and more. The list goes on and on. Little by little, not only is life expectancy being extended, the fallout of longer life is being lessened.

A word of caution: Just because humans are gaining the capacity to live longer and to be more vital while doing so, doesn’t mean that people should adopt a “There’s-time-to-do-it” lifestyle. Debts should be paid in a timely manner, RSVP requests should be responded to, and gifts should be acknowledged. LBL, herself, looks forward to a long life of vigor and vitality. She will need it in order to rant, qvetch and protest about the exact same things she did over 50, 60 and 70 years ago. If she lives to 150 years, she looks forward to holding up a protest sign and her middle finger at all of the dreck in the universe that was (and still is) responsible for agitating her when she was 20 years old. Some things, alas, are impervious to death.

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