Thursday, July 23, 2009

Fountain of Youth?

Time magazine published an article this spring (3/23/09) titled, "10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now." There were the usual references to "green" initiatives and technological advances. And then came #5, "Amortality." Author Catherine Mayer coined the phrase as she wrote about how aging Boomers are changing the paradigm of growing older. She notes that the number of cosmetic surgeons in this country, for example, has tripled since 2003. Here's how Ms. Mayer describes her newly minted term. Amortality is more than this ripple effect of aging Boomers' resistance. "Amortality is a stranger, stronger alchemy, created by the intersection of that trend with a massive increase in life expectancy and a deep decline in the influence of organized religion - all viewed through the blue haze of Viagra." Her tongue-in-cheek remarks give way to serious paragraphs revealing this "trend" driven not only by dreading the aging process, but outright denying it through physical interventions, including surgery, and scientific explorations going beyond the temptations of cryogenics into "radical life-extending and life-enhancing technologies." These potentially life-shifting perspectives and discoveries challenge the common wisdom that "aging is a natural thing that is going on independently of disease." Dr. Aubrey deGrey, a Cambridge university gerontologist quoted in this article calls this so-called everyday knowledge "nonsense." His research is focused on stopping aging altogether.

"Amortality" is a boon to the economy, Ms. Mayer argues, touching every arena from music to clothing, to vacations to drugs (note how much Viagra and Cialis have become household words), to gadgets and foods. So, what does this trend really mean for those of us who may be more accepting, shall we say, of the fact that aging is a part of life. Surely the boundaries of aging have expanded over the years. And the recent film, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," turns the framework upside down with the worst effects of old age appearing right at the beginning of life bringing this boy man into ever-strengthening youth, ending finally when he becomes a tiny baby again.

As I work with individuals and families every day facing the challenges of aging, I see the insistence on independence and creating quality of life, the willingness to push and pull and do what it takes to stay alive and able to make decisions about how to live life as fully as possible. Don't only think replacement hips, knees, and Lasik surgery. Consider the proliferation and accessibility of products to make home safe and manageable, stairlifts, easy-to-access tubs, and power vehicles.

So maybe the word "amortality" is a new one, but this so-called "trend" of extending life and living it to the fullest is in fact as old as the hills, or at least as old as Plato, who wrote first about "aging backwards." Ms. Mayer concludes that if this trend does not sound so revolutionary, "it's only beause amortality has already revolutionized our attitudes toward age."

What are your thoughts about "amortality?" What are your tips for living fully and endlessly? What else changes when we think about ourselves as "amortal?" Share your ideas in a post or email me.

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