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Monday, March 18 , 2019, 5:37 pm | Fair 65º

Your Health

Rona Barrett: A Short Version of the Longevity Issue

Taking time to take in last week’s timely double issue of TIME was like watching Professor Marvel gaze into his crystal ball and proclaim, “We can all expect to live longer!”

That’s because scientists have done a superlative job of extending our life expectancy by 10 years compared to what it was in 1970, which brings us to TIME’s second point: the longer we live, the more likely our chances are of being debilitated by disease and poverty.

This year, 50 million will be afflicted worldwide by Alzheimer’s and dementia, and that number will double every 20 years.

Our next generation of wannabe centenarians will be more in debt and have less of a financial safety net than any previous generation. The majority of future elders will no longer be able to finance 30 or more years of retirement with “just” 40 years of work.  

And what about low-income seniors who risk running out of money altogether? Their numbers will double by 2022.

By 2033, payroll taxes will only pay for 77 percent of promised Social Security benefits.

As future seniors grow older, they will grow more sedentary and obese — both risk factors for earlier onset of diabetes and dementia.

But TIME’s Longevity Issue is not all gloom and doom. 

For example, just because future elders may delay retirement — or not retire at all — doesn’t mean they shouldn’t consider “flexible retirement,” which involves less demanding schedules and hours worked.

They can still take on a less stressful and more purposeful career pursuit — one that rewards with more than just money.

Then there’s research that shows how minor changes in our lives — through mindfulness, meditation and healthy living — can significantly contribute to combating age-related diseases.

Scientists are studying sea clams and their ability to protect their proteins from damage — Alzheimer’s is caused by protein disturbances in the brain. 

Metformin — the diabetes drug — may be another dementia and Alzheimer’s foe. We contract these diseases because our bodies lose the ability to use insulin to break down sugar into energy that feeds brain cells. 

Other researchers are studying the Benjamin Button-like Jellyfish that, instead of growing older, grows younger — something of which human stem cells are capable.

And that brings us to the third major point of the longevity issue: “The first step in creating a culture that supports long life,” writes TIME’s editor, “is recognizing that long-term planning doesn’t come naturally to humans.”

You and I know that we as a country are in denial about the onslaught of challenges we must face in caring for our senior loved ones. 

And if we are going to fundamentally change how we think about our future — and how long that future might last — then the national conversation that TIME has sparked, honestly laying out the harsh reality of what we need to change, is an important first bump in in what promises to be an eTicket roller coaster ride.  

So climb aboard all, hold on tight and let’s take this ride together. It may turn out better than we think.

Until next time... keep thinking the good thoughts.

— For more than 30 years, Rona Barrett was a pioneering entertainment reporter, commentator and producer. Since 2000, she has focused her attention and career on the growing crisis of housing and support for our aging population. She is the founder and CEO of the Rona Barrett Foundation, the catalyst behind Santa Ynez Valley’s first affordable senior housing, the Golden Inn & Village. Contact her at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are her own.

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