When Benjamin Franklin said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes,” he obviously forgot about aging. Yes, I’m referring to that aspect of life where hair turns gray, wrinkles develop, eyesight begins to fail, and physical strength is diminished. We all will face the effects of aging once day (or are perhaps dealing with it now). But can we do anything else about it?
It’s a fantastic question that is not being asked enough these days. In the fourth episode of National Geographic Channel’s Breakthrough series, famed director Ron Howard (Apollo 13; the upcoming film In the Heart of the Sea) shares possible answers to that question—answers that we, as a global community, need to respond to sooner rather than later.
Often when people talk about aging, they tend to discuss cures for cancer, heart disease, stroke, and the like. While these are all noble pursuits, a cure for one disease isn’t going to make us less susceptible to others; we’re still going to die of something. Besides, we can’t really count on finding a cure for any disease in our lifetime (as an example, scientists promised a cure for cancer back in 1972). But if there was a way to potentially slow down aging and its effects, all diseases would, in theory, be treated simultaneously (as they tend to cut life expectancy in the later years of life). The point isn’t necessarily to live longer—although we’re doing that already (in 1900, the average lifespan was 50; it’s now 80). It’s to improve the quality of one’s life in those later years so there’s not a protracted period of time fighting illnesses and attempting to get back to a semblance of normalcy. Who wants to live their final years in the doctor’s office every other week?
The other issue comes from a demographic standpoint—with people living longer, there are more of them to potentially take care of—too many for the younger generation to handle (the number of older folks in the US will double in the near future). So it would behoove doctors and scientists to figure out how to treat aging so older people can take care of themselves a little longer.
In the meantime, there are scientists and individuals such as Laura Deming (pictured above) who are studying aging and are working to do something about it. Deming began work on this topic at age 11 (that’s not a typo) and wants to see something positive come out of it. And it may happen sooner than later through her work as a venture capitalist, helping to provide needed funds to continue research.
Howard shares in the episode that a group of individuals are currently bringing this issue to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the form of a drug called metformin. It’s cheap, safe, and has been proven to reduce aging in lab mice. The problem is that the FDA tends to focus on treatments for specific diseases—and aging is too broad and nebulous to be classified in a clinical trial. Their discussions with the FDA are part of the episode and are worth a viewing in their own right.
Until this is a reality, we have to deal with the effects of aging like everyone else. Take Martha Kamin for example—she has significant heart issues due to being 90 years old, but has to consider whether to take an elective surgery to potentially help her for a few years or let nature run its course. What would you do if you were in her place?
We may have to answer that question for ourselves one day—or answer it by default due to not making a decision in time. Perhaps metformin becomes an option to slow aging in humans, but it may not. The key thing, in the meantime, is to make the most of the time we’ve been granted by God to be on this planet (see Ephesians 5:15-16)—and we really can’t do that effectively by being bedridden, unable to do those things we want to. So we enjoy time with our grandkids, appreciate the beauty of a sunset, and keep fit as best we can. Every day is a blessing from God, and making the most of every opportunity leads to a rich, full life that’s well-lived—regardless of what aging can do.