and Paul Higgs (1998) 'Ageing and the Limiting Conditions of
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Received: 03/08/98 Accepted: 18/12/98 Published: 31/12/98
the old man soon appears to forfeit his animal privilege of moving freely on the earth Š he eventually becomes partially petrified and almost belongs more to inorganic than to organic life. (Constatt, 1839: p. 2)
in this age the sexual function gradually ceases, sexual difference turns into indifferenceŠand ..the sexes come to resemble each other once again in respect of appearance and the condition of the whole body. (Grafe et al,1828: p.108)
a new distinct phase in the life cycles of most people a period of post-employment leisure preceding by many years the onset of marked physical decline. (Harper and Thane, 1991: p. 59)
they offered little guidance for the conduct of an aged life. During this period of the 'consolidation' of retirement policies, the discipline of gerontology emerged as an attempt to make clear what old people could and could not do. The state was and has remained the principal source of funding for these empirical studies of ageing. The results however provided little clarity. As research expanded many of the initial cross-sectional descriptions of 'normal' physiological and psychological ageing were challenged, on both methodological and empirical grounds. The very nature of normal ageing proved an extremely elusive concept (cf. Busse, 1969).
strategy [that] has become too expensive for the patient, employer and government to afford to continue to support and has cost medicine its special relationship with business. (Longino and Murphy , 1995: p. 91)
it is not ageing alone that will bring the 'avalanche', but ageing plus expensive technological progress in keeping the elderly alive and in good health. The successes of medicine not its failures will give us fits in the future. (Callahan, 1997, p. 91)
assumes that the meaning of old age is to be found in the finitude of human life as a condition to be voluntarily accepted through collective action, not individual choice. (Moody, HR. 1995: p. 174)
Data showing the cumulative amount of disability in the average human life may be very substantially reduced are now strong, perhaps even conclusive. (Fries, 1997: p. 1592)
exercise, smoking cessation, dietary change, weight control, vitamin E, low dose aspirin, estrogens, calcium, and other medical supplementsŠ improving air quality and reducing hazards in the immediate environment. (Fries, 1997: p. 1592)
the next few decades will undoubtedly see even more dramatic progress in molecular genetics. I share Finch's conviction that we need not accept the inevitability of senile decline. There are magnificent examples of defiance of ageing by the human spirit but if mounting mind over matter was our only option I would be more pessimistic. Biology gives us hope of organic improvement and plenty of food for thought. Not all creatures are subject to senescence. Decay is not a necessary fact of life. (Gosden, 1996: p. 306)
if we are to alleviate the enormous cost to society in economic and human terms for an ageing population riddled with degenerative diseases it is time we began making use of the latest findings about rejuvenation and putting them into practice in our own lives. (Kenton, 1996: p.22)
they can destroy cell membranes, disrupt DNA and wreak havoc with the body.
At the same time they penetrate our 'natural' defences from 'out there', originating from external sources linked inevitably to the modern 'polluted' world. So we are told:
air pollution for instance, being exposed to ultra violet light or radiation, pesticides in foods, drugs, cigarette smoke, exposure to some plastics and even polyunsaturated fats.. flying in jets..even exercise produces free radicals. (Kenton, 1996: p. 36)
2the potential confounding of age and cohort effects were brought to light first in studies of mental decline in later life in the work of Paul Baltes and Warner Schaie (see, Baltes et al., 1979 and Schaie, 1965; Schaie and Strother, 1968); the influence of secular and cohort effects on biological indicators of ageing and the instability of biological markers of mortality across the adult lifespan have been reviewed in Fozard et al, 1990, esp. pp. P122 - 3.
3Evidence of the widespread under investigation and under-treatment of disease in later life has been reviewed by Gilleard et al., 1994
4See for example Featherstone and Hepworth (1998, esp. pp.161-172) on the possibilities of a 'post-bodies' technofuture.
5Several examples of this rhetoric are cited in John Medina's book, The Clock of Ages. He quotes Michael Rose saying: 'I believe in 25 years we could see the creation of the first products that can postpone human aging significantly. This would be only the beginning. ŠThe only practical limit to human lifespan is the limit of human technology' (Medina, 1996: p. 312). William Regelson is quoted as stating: 'as we learn to control the genes involved in aging, the possibilities of lengthening life appear practically unlimited' (p. 313).
6 Finch and Tanzi, writing in the journal Science conclude their review of the genetics of aging by arguing that 'the relatively minor heritability of human lifespan at advanced ages and the variable penetrance of genetic risk factors imply that choice of life-style profoundly influences the outcomes of aging' (Finch and Tanzi, 1997: p. 411).
7One of the most recent additions to this self-help literature is a book by that name - Superyoung - sub-titled the 'proven way to stay young forever' (Weeks and James, 1998)
8Numerous books have emerged in the last five years whose principal claim is to offer the reader a way to reverse ageing, to prevent ageing or to stay forever young. Examples mentioned already in this paper include Earl Mindell's Anti-Ageing Bible, Leslie Kenton's Rejuvenate Now, David Weeks' Superyoung, and Richard Restak's Longevity Strategy. There are many others - such as Judith Wills' Take 10 Years Off in 10 Weeks; Jean Carper's Stop Ageing Now and Marisa Peer's Forever Young.
9The term ironic science has been coined by John Horgan to describe the pursuit of science 'in a speculative post-empirical mode' (Horgan, 1997: p.7) which offers a scientific interpretation of how things might be, rather than an empirically verifiable theory of how things are.
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