My great aunt celebrated her 95th birthday this year. She’s doing so well! She is still able to walk by herself, although she sometimes uses a walker when she feels tired. She still has all her teeth. Her main difficulty is her diminishing eyesight, so her daughters regularly come to read to her. Although she lives in a nursing home, she is in a room of her own, so she still has some independence. With her health in such good condition, we all hope she’s able to live for many more years.
After all, not many people reach her age. Some scientists think there could be more healthy, elderly people like her in another generation. Others think people like her will remain rare. There’s been a heated debate among scientists on this very subject in recent years, one that you’ve probably been unaware of, and it’s hard to say who might be right.
Approximately one year ago, Jan Vijg, a molecular scientist at the Albert Einstein College of medicine in New York, declared a maximum limit to the human life span. He capped life expectancy at the age of 115, declaring that there are certain biological limits that just can’t be overcome by technological or medical advances. According to his predictions, humans won’t be able to live any longer than that.
This declaration incited a rather riotous debate, with other scientists like Maarten Peter Rozing, Nick Brown, and Siegfried Hekimi of universities in Copenhagen, Groningen, and Montreal all declaring that Vijg was reading the data incorrectly. They don’t see a limit to the human lifespan, and cite the death of Frenchwoman Jeanne Calment at the ripe age of 122 as proof that the human life span is steadily increasing.
But Calment died in 1997, and no one has been able to top her for twenty years. This could either be a sign that a plateau has been reached, and it’s simply not possible to live any longer, or, it could merely be a temporary lull. Who knows, really? With such a small data set, almost any conclusion can be drawn, and most of the scientific debate is a mere quibbling over the definitiveness of Vijg’s statement, not his reasoning.
Like me, most people probably don’t care so much about the length of human life. We would just like to be assured that the quality is good, not matter how long it lasts. And I think we’ve learned enough in recent years to be reasonably assured that if we can follow enough of the preventative measures, we’ll experience fewer of the negative parts of aging. After all, no one wants to spend their last years stuck in a hospital bed all plugged up with tubes and wires.
So, I once again wish a hearty “Happy Birthday!” to my great aunt and very much hope that she lives many years more – and in continued good health. I wish the same to all of you! We’ll keep fighting the good fight, and with any luck, maybe we can follow in the footsteps of Frenchwoman Jeanne Calmont, and break that age barrier of 115 years – in good health, of course.
About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000. She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.