Sunday, February 16, 2014

Staying alive

Did you know that our life expectancy changes as you grow older. For  example, according to statistics, if you are 65 years old, you will die in 17.19 years. (Source*)

Knowing your life expectancy can help you make informed decisions about retirement in general, and social security benefits in particular. Many people underestimate their life expectancy because they don't realize it changes as they grow older. 

It is important to remember that you aren't the average person, of course, and you can't count on living as long as the tables say, no matter what your current age. The tables are based on the broad population, including smokers and non-smokers, marathoners and couch potatoes, and people with all sorts of good and bad indications for longevity. You may get a more realistic picture if you adjust what you read in the tables based on knowledge of your own factors.

When entrepreneur, author and investor Robert Ringer was asked:  “In order of importance, what would you say are the three most essential  rules when it comes to making money?” Without hesitation, he blurted out: 
Rule No. 1: Stay alive 
Rule No. 2: Stay healthy 
Rule No. 3: Stop losing money 

Well I would argue that he has it right for retirement as well, except that Rule No. 2 would be Rule No. 1. Stay healthy 

There are a lot of people who are working on helping us age well, for two reasons, one is that there is a major problem that needs to be solved and the second is that people believe that they will make money from the research.

For your information, here are some of the anti-aging and life-extension breakthroughs that took place just in the last few years
1. Celera and the public Human Genome Project categorized the human genetic code. We finally have the blueprints for a human being.  
That means someday, we could completely understand how the human body works at the most basic level. This will greatly speed up the time it takes to develop new treatments for all diseases. 

2. Leonard Guarente and his team at MIT were able to find a genetic pathway  involved in controlling aging by caloric restriction. 
By understanding how eating less calories works to extend life in simple organisms, scientists can use this information to figure out the same pathway in humans. Then, we could develop drugs to do the same thing. In fact, Dr. Guarente co-founded Elixir Pharmaceuticals to do just that. 

3. Simon Melov and fellow researchers at the Buck Institute extended the life of a worm by 44% by feeding it powerful but safe new drugs. 
This is the first time drugs dramatically extended the lifespan of a complex form of life. This could perhaps result in a pill that would greatly extend your lifespan and your healthspan.

4. Stephen Helfand and his team at the University of Connecticut HealthCenter in Farmington isolated a gene called ìIím Not Dead Yet.î Using it, he bred a line of fruit flies that live twice as long as regular fruit flies. 
Once again, turning the right genes on or off can extend lifespan. 

5. Aubrey de Grey at Cambridge University feels that with the right level of funding, we could see real age-retarding therapies (that at least double the current average healthy lifespan) within the next 25 years. Dr. de Grey published a Scientific Roadmap to reverse aging in an aged mouse within 10 years. The human map won't be far behind. 

6. Stem Cells. All our organs come equipped with spare parts called stem cells. Their job is to make replacement parts for specialized organs like hearts, eyes, skin, etc. Many stem cell breakthroughs occurred recently, including: 
a. Diabetic mice were cured of insulin deficiency. 
b. A world-first breakthrough promises a cure for lung diseases that kill millions. Melbourne scientists at the prestigious National Stem Cell Centre have turned stem cells into lung cells. The revolutionary development is a step towards coaxing damaged lungs to repair themselves. The technique could yield cures for cystic fibrosis, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and, eventually, lung cancer. 
c. New liver cells were grown in mice. 
d. Neurons for very specific areas of the brain were grown from stem cells. 
e. A 16-year old Michigan boy received a pioneering stem-cell transplant. He was accidentally shot in the heart with a nail gun, and after surgeons removed the nail, he had a heart attack that destroyed nearly a third of his heart's muscle cells. He would have needed either a new heart transplant or an experimental bone-marrow stem-cell transplant directly into the damage heart. The latter was tried and seems to have worked! 
f. In Tokyo, Professor Asashima grew whole frog eyes from stem cells,  implanted them, and the frogs were able to see.
g. Stem cells can help cardiac tissue to repair itself weeks after a heart attack, new Cleveland Clinic research shows. The study identified the first stem cell "homing factor" for cardiac muscle tissue, which allows stem cells to "home" to an area of tissue damage. 
h. Mike May had his sight restored and his injured eye regrown by stem cell therapy after 43 years of blindness. Stem cell research could eventually lead to a cell-by-cell replacement 
of the human body, substituting old cells with new young cells.

7. Martin Holzenberger and his team in Paris made mice live 33% longer than normal, with no obvious side effects. They removed a gene involved in sensing nutrients.
With good gene therapy techniques, the same type of thing could potentially add about 30 years to our lives. 

8. The first ìMethuselah Mouse Prizeî was awarded to Andrzej Bartke for his treated mouse that lived almost five years ñ equivalent to 180 years for a human. The second was won by Stephen Spindler who broke Dr. Bartkeís record.

9. Researchers at Harvard Medical School have been looking for what they call the Holy Grail of aging research: molecules that activate the enzymes that in turn influence the genes that regulate aging. Now, they say, they have found those molecules. One of the molecules, a compound known as resveratrol,was shown in a study to extend the life span of yeast cells by up to 80 percent. Similar trials are being planned on mice. Resveratrol is now available as a supplement for human consumption.

10. Tweaking genes in roundworms (a good model for basic human physiology)  multiplied their life spans by 600%. This equates to 500-year human life spans. 

Recently, a group at the University of Wisconsin developed a technique to locate many genes that are involved in the aging process in mice. This may allow us to someday control the aging process itself. 
At Geron, a biotechnology company, researchers have been working on shutting off the cellular aging clock, the telomere. 

What does all this research mean? Very simply this: With today's astonishing pace of scientific progress, we'll most  likely develop technologies in the next 10 years that could eventually slow aging to a crawl in lab animals. 
Then maybe halt it. 
Then maybe even reverse it. 

For the average person, the choice to start receiving retirement benefits early will ultimately mean receiving a smaller total lifetime benefit, and if even some of the above research comes t mean anything or f you have reason to believe your personal life expectancy is longer than average, you may come out better by starting your benefit later.

 People with average or better life expectancy, especially females, should think twice about starting the benefit early. You may still want to make that choice for other reasons, such as having money to travel while you're young enough to enjoy it, but the long-term consequences of that decision won't be favourable if you live far beyond the break-even point, Remember the longer you stay healthy, the longer you live and you don't want to run out of money too early.

Understanding Life Expectancy By Kaye A. Thomas

* (The 2007 period life table for the Social Security area population. For this table, the period life expectancy at a given age represents the average number of years of life remaining if a group of persons at that age were to experience the mortality rates for 2007 over the course of their remaining life.)

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