As I sat in a waiting room last week, I eavesdropped on an older gentleman’s telephone conversation.
He greeted the person on the other end, remarked about the weather, and exchanged the usual niceties. Then he got down to the nitty gritty – a list of his ailments. His knees were sore, his back had been troubling him, and his feet were a constant source of woe. He concluded to his caller, ‘Getting old sucks.’
So should we really be excited at the news, released this week, that a new anti-aging drug could see humans live to 120? Researchers certainly seem to think so. Diabetes drug metformin, which has been proven to extend the life of animals, will be trialled on humans next year to see if the effects can be replicated.
Scientists believe that it is possible to stop people growing old quickly and allow people to maintain good health into our 110s and 120s.
On the one hand, it’s fantastic. The idea that we may tell our grandchildren about long forgotten diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s in the same way we now think of Polio or Smallpox, we must concede, is a win.
Plus, if ageing is slowed down and we feel like we’re in our 50s when we’re actually in our 70s or 80s, then age really is just a number, so long as we can lead happy, healthy lives, without the inevitable frailty that comes with it.
And that would all be swell – if good health was the only thing we were worried about.
But what about retirement? I’ll have to work until I’m ninety, just in case I make it to 120. Even now, in my late twenties, I’m reminded by my father that I should think about putting away some money towards my pension. If I was really on the ball and put away a portion of my earnings starting today, I would still have nowhere near enough to retire and live out my days on a beach (as planned) as a centenarian and beyond.
Suppose I was smart and invested my money wisely. That should keep me sunbathing a little while longer. But what if I stay in good health at 110 and my 80-year-old (ahem) children get sick? I’ll have to help them out, pay for medical expenses. Maybe pay to put my kids in a home if life hasn’t treated them as kindly as their mother.
And aside from the aching joints, the increased working age and the endless money worries, consider all the what-ifs and might-have-been’s that will come with living that long. Frank Sinatra, one of the most successful musical artists of the 20th century, did things his way. But even he had a few regrets and he stepped off the stage of life at 82 (apparently an age my kids will still be expecting me to organize birthday parties for them). Imagine how many more regrets Old Blue Eyes might have had if he had chalked up an additional 40 years…
So, morbid though it may seem, I think I will politely decline 120. I’ll say ‘no, thank you’ to being a centurion. In fact, I’m quite good with a life that lives and dies in double digits, albeit hopefully high double digits.
Because, in the end, I don’t mind mind that life’s ‘too short’. It’s what happens to also make it that much sweeter. And besides, the idea of having to force myself to go to the gym in the morning for another ninety years is enough to make me want to stay in bed forever.