The recent holiday headlines that one in five might live to be 100 briefly brought life risk related issues to a rare front page. You can catch up on the BBC piece on it here, and the TVNZ piece on it over here.
Here's a gem which encapsulates the concept of the age-adjusted mortality which can be hard for the layman to grasp quickly: bookmakers William Hill usually calculate the odds of you reaching a particular age by deducting your current age from 100. So at birth they are happy to offer odds of 100/1 on reaching 100. At age 95 they are happy to offer odds of 5/1. No intrusive medical questions here!
Also, a good summary of the public policy issues:
- The fear is that longer life spans will put an intolerable pressure on the pensions system and the NHS.
- Saving more and having a good pension is one thing - but there are also opportunities, and should be, for us to keep working longer, but not necessarily full time.
Note that Ros Altman, spokesperson for Saga, a business offering services to older people, has a surname that could be of German extraction and can be roughly translated 'old man' :-)
Given all the talk in recent years about 'obesity epidemics' and even in one leaflet published by the vitamins industry 'the next generation could be the first to die younger than their parents' you might forgive the general populace for some confusion. But, then again, there is plenty of room in that 'four-in-five' that don't make it to 100 for you to get killed on the roads in your teens or die of heart disease in your 50s. Unpleasant, but true. However, let's not forget that generally the picture is improving.
A good primer for the basic longevity issues is of course wikipedia which has this to say:
Evidence-based studies indicate that longevity is based on two major factors, genetics and lifestyle choices. Twin studies , have estimated that approximately 20-30% of an individual’s lifespan is related to genetics, the rest is due to individual behaviors and environmental factors which can be modified.
Of course how much you can change your lifestyle factors depends on your views. I know a woman who has travelled half way around the world to get away from a bad living situation - but not all of us can do that. Sometimes you have to accept that family ties, education, and the pull of tradition, will mean a person will keep living in a horse hide tent heated with horse dung eating horse stew.
An old mate of mine always said 'never bet on anything that can talk' - and so it is with stories of super-longevity. Take these comments:
"In late life, very old people often tend to advance their ages at the rate of about 17 years per decade .... Several celebrated super-centenarians (over 110 years) are believed to have been double lives (father and son, relations with the same names or successive bearers of a title) .... A number of instances have been commercially sponsored, while a fourth category of recent claims are those made for political ends ...." The estimate of 17 years per decade was corroborated by the 1901 and 1911 British censuses. Mazess and Forman also discovered in 1978 that inhabitants of Vilcabamba, Ecuador, claimed excessive longevity by using their fathers' and grandfathers' baptismal entries.
Humans, lying? Who'd have thought?
Prominent amongst those lifestyle factors is what you eat. The risks of obesity are well documented, but following a study in mice some people get very excited about the idea of living a long time by not eating much. It's not that you live longer, fool, it's just that it feels like it. But maybe that's just me justifying my Christmas excesses.
Other people reckon that personality type plays a big part in the whole process. This study seems to think so, but as we're yet to see questions of this type in application forms, perhaps the effect cannot yet be put to commercial use.
I shall offer the traditional Vulcan blessing (which I think should become a sort of motto for life insurance advisers) as I wish you Happy New Year: "Live Long and Prosper".