Growing Old

Just a few seconds ago, I saw a picture of a time capsule embedded in the flooring of a mall in Calgary, listed to be unearthed in the year 2999. I had misread the caption at first as 2099, and thought to myself, “Huh- seems like a waste. I’ll still be alive for that.”

The full implication of that just struck me.

I’m going to be alive in 2099.

Okay- maybe.

I’ve kinda joked before about not being the healthiest person, but the simple fact of the matter is that even with my enjoyment of tobacco, alcohol, and high-sodium foods, my diet and lifestyle is still pretty dang good- especially in comparison with what the standard would’ve been in the 60s or 50s.

Last month, Vo Ngueyen Giap, leader of the Viet Cong military died at the ripe age of 102. This man was born in 1911- he lived through both prohibition and Four Loko. “Prussia” was still a thing when Giap was a kid.

And the late Vietnamese general is only one of an increasingly large centenarian demographic. And keep in mind, this is our grandparents’ generation we’re talking about here. We’re (I’m taking the liberty of assuming you, the readers, are in your 20s) two generations, minimum, further down the line.

Advances in medical technology, as well as changes to life in general, mean people are going to be living longer. According to some scientists, “the first person to live to 150 has already been born“. Granted, that quote comes to us from people involved pretty heavily in the industry of anti-aging and geriatric research, but certainly the logic seems to be there. If each generation since the beginnings of the modern era lives 10 to 20 years more than the previous, we could very well be looking at mass numbers of people breaking triple digits.

So what does this mean?

Well, the immediate issue is going to be the need for advancing treatments (and ideally, discovering cures) for disease and health issues specific to old age. Alzheimer’s springs most readily to mind, though dementia, arthritis, and weakened immune systems are going to follow close behind. While obviously keeping the mind sharp is going to be a top priority, if we’re going to have people who are 120 around we’re going to have to also be looking at finding ways of keeping the elderly mobile. I least- I imagine we will. I for one wouldn’t want to spend a third of my life house-bound.

If the majority of us can do this dance a century from now, we oughta be good…

There’s already a growing concern with how inadequately prepared we are to support the growing senior citizen population. Nursing and home health care workers are in extremely high demand, but there’s a question of whether or not we can keep up. I’m guessing there’s going to be a strong need to figure out alternative ways of offsetting the load- be it finding ways of keeping the elderly/ourselves self-sufficient or in addressing who exactly is expected to help the elderly out.

That picture above is of a man in China carrying and feeding his mother. Asia is typically cited as being home to cultures which hold much greater respect for the elderly- though this article here suggests some interesting problems with the model.

Health is just a single aspect though- what really interests me is what we’re going to be seeing in terms of culture and society. With the elderly becoming a more and more common element of society, are we going to be seeing an increased reverence towards old age, or less?

And what’s the inverse of that going to look like? How is the elderly segment of the population going to look at young people? Is there going to be a general distrust of anyone under 30? Are the 80 year old going to be hanging out with the 130 year olds, or is there going to be too much of a difference between them?

Entertainment is going to be another interesting issue. It’s tough to speculate on, simply because the medium itself is doubtlessly going to be changing so drastically, but it’s still interesting. We have the first generation to grow up with personal computers and the internet. That could mean anything from 80-year-olds remixing tracks along with teenagers (assuming that we’re still doing that with music) or it could mean utter stagnation- we have easy-access to the sights and sounds we’re used to and never venture out of our own, old sub-culture. Comedian Nick Swardson kinda brings up the same subject:

If you get the chance, you oughta look up Swardson’s other bits about growing old (it’s a favored topic with him). I’m not sure if it was Swardson or another comedian who brought up video games as another point, but I’ve already talked about how video games aren’t going to go away as we grow older, that they’re as much a part of entertainment these days as cribbage was for my grandfather. With a host of scientific sources cited that video games may improve memory and hand-and-eye coordination, we might actually see gaming encouraged among the elderly.

Readers, I’m not going to pretend I know the future, or that I’m somehow qualified to even begin to speculate on what it might hold. Simple fact of the matter is, more often than not, predictions of the future are wrong. How many times were we supposed to have a moon-base by now? 5?

We’re constantly getting hit with things we never expected.

All that said, I do think we oughta start at least considering possibilities here. We might not get anything right, but at least we’ll already be in the proper frame of mind for dealing with the situation when it  inevitably arises.

I’m thinking mech suits a la The Matrix Revolutions/District 9/Aliens would solve most of the issues I’ve mentioned, but that’s just me. What do you guys think?

2 responses to “Growing Old

  1. I find it important that our society can lengthen youth along with lifespan. If the average lifespan goes up to 150 and the maximum working age of the average working person is 60-ish, we’re gonna have a problem. Even today, the average retirement age is getting older and older, and it’s out of necessity, not because people are able to retain their youthful working energy well into their 80s.

  2. I think there’s a lot of unknown in the future when it comes to this issue. I think what it really comes down to is a question of quality of life versus quantity of life. I mean, it’s exciting to think that I could live to be 150 but I really want to make sure I’m actually living the whole time. If I spend the last 50 years of my life mostly immobile and relying on others to keep me alive or if I turn into a drooling, gibbering mockery of my former self that really doesn’t sound like an improvement on my future. I would much rather die at 80 with dignity. That’s just me, though. I guess I’m just concerned that we’ve learned how to extend life before we learned how to extend quality of life.

    I am also really fascinated by how entertainment will change as our generation ages. I mean, obviously our generation will still love our music and whatnot. But the idea of whether or not we will play video games does not seem as clear to me. The difference between the diversions of our generation and those of the elderly today is cost. If they want a board game or deck of cards that’s going to set them back $20, tops. Everything you need right in that package. But with video games you have most games going for $60 not counting the cost of a console or gaming computer as well as a monitor and whatever peripherals. I think that our generation will desire to continue playing video games into our 80s, but will it be be an option financially?

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