Thursday, April 4, 2013

Searcher: Is Aging a Disease?

The article I found asks an interesting question: is aging a disease? The author, Kate Kelland, explains that although simply growing older (that is, having more birthdays and a growing chronological age) is normal, perhaps diseases of the elderly are not normal and that we should be able to treat them. Some scientists are saying that if we view aging itself as a disease, we will respond more to it by trying to come up with a "cure." Kelland notes that drug companies will not license medicines for something general such as aging. Kelland says that life expectancy is increasing and says that this must mean people are living longer. She also claims that with greater age comes greater instance of age-related diseases such as Alzheimer's. Once scientist says that we are approaching these diseases the wrong way--instead of looking at the individual diseases, we should be looking at aging and searching for a common mechanism for all age-related diseases. Kelland concludes the article by clarifying that this search to "cure" aging is not really an attempt to increase life-span, but an attempt to increase health-span and simply help people stay healthier in their old age.

I did notice that she made the claim that people are living longer--however, she used life expectancy to support this rather than life span. We discussed in class that people are not, in fact, living much longer; there are simply less people dying very young, but once people make it past childhood, the life span of humans has not really changed.

I was also skeptical at first of the attempt to find a "cure" for aging. It doesn't make sense to me to create more drugs to "solve" a problem that isn't really a problem. However, the clarification at the end of the article about the goal being to reduce age-related illnesses makes sense. Kelland mentions that researchers are also looking at preventative ways to reduce these illnesses, which I think makes perfect sense. However, the idea of redefining aging as an illness simply so that pharmaceutical companies can create more drugs to "fix" this problem is weird to me. Since humans' life span has not really changed, but age-related illnesses have, there is probably something we are doing, some lifestyle factor, that is causing such an increase of age-related illnesses. If we can fix that problem, we can easily improve "health-span."

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