Forecast: The 100-Plus Life

Can We Live To Be 100 Plus?

Sonia Arrison , the author of “100+: How the Coming Age of Longevity Will Change Careers, Relationships, Family and Faith” absolutely, positively wants to live to 150.  “I just hope I wasn’t born too soon,” she said. But though 150 years may be stretching it a bit, she’s sure that living to a hundred will be typical in the not-so-distant future, and living long past the century mark will be very possible as well.   That’s because Arrison, a futurist and expert on technology believes we are on the cusp of an amazing science-fiction-like revolution in longevity brought about by science and technology. She says that the astonishing advances that will extend our lives and keep us healthy far longe  are almost here.  In the very near future fresh organs for transplants will be grown in laboratories, cloned stem cells will help cure diseases, and each person will know his own genome make-up and because of that receive personalized  and far more effective medical treatment. “It is happening already,” she said, “Windpipes and bladders have already been grown in labs and successfully transplanted.  A woman who lost part of her finger had it regrown –not reattached—by an experimental procedure that may soon be able to regenerate entire limbs What’s more, we are increasingly understanding the genome sequencing and that’s extraordinarily important.  Biology has become an information technology.“ 
How did Arrison, who has not yet hit even the big four-oh, get so involved in this subject?  Surprisingly enough, by watching a reality show. “It was one of the makeover shows.  And it would show how people could be changed and improved, and it made them so happy.   So it started me wondering that if people could be made happy by just such a little tweak, what more significant changes could be made for people. There was already a lot going on in the area of life extension, but it only made the news for a day or so.  I decided to investigate all that was happening in the field and discovered it was so exciting and so promising.” But what will life be like for a world full of centenarians? Currently  many people, youngsters, shall we say,  in their fifties and sixties, are already worried that they will not have enough money for their later years   But Arrison believes if people are able to stay healthy longer they will remain  productive and able to take of themselves financially,  and society, in general, will benefit from their longevity. .  She also envisions a variety of different life stages in the future, an adolescence extended far longer than it is today and possibly great age differences between partners. And, as well as extending lifespan, if science can extend fertility for women, there could be families with mothers having their first children in their sixties and siblings decades and decades apart. 

Another question: What will the role of religion be in a world where death no longer has much of a sting?  “Well,” Arrison said, “it will be possible to have mastery over biology but not death.  Accidents will happen and new problems could arise. But if our life spans increase and we are healthier for a much longer period of time, worrying about the afterlife will be put off.  But religion has many roles and only one of them is dealing with the anxiety about death. The religions that will thrive will be the ones that can adapt to our new realities and focus on the meaning of life.”

Although for many living longer today  the older and older they get becomes less and less of a goal, talking with Arrison made me think of that joke “Who really wants to live to a hundred? And the answer is a ninety-nine year old man.” And that  may be true of a one hundred and forty nine year old man as well. Arrison said the point of her book was a positive one: “A longer health span meets more time to enjoy the wonders of life.”  

Myrna Blyth is editor-in-chief of ThirdAge. 

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