National Edition

Radical life extension: What would you think of living to 120 and beyond, survey asks

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 6 2013 10:00 a.m. MDT

Maxine T. Grimm, age 99, holds one of her cats, Oliver, in her home in Tooele, Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

TOOELE — Maxine T. Grimm never expected to live so long, 99 on her most recent birthday. But as her 100th looms, she highly recommends it. She's had a life that included school and world travel, husband and children, and lots of friends across multiple generations.

The trick, she notes, is keeping yourself in good health and exercising. She suggests walking and movement in general. "Change positions often, don't sit all the time. Do things that set you in motion," she says. "And be sociable. That's a very important part of it. Continue to meet new people, do new things, be interested in the things around you. Help by teaching people. And remember to learn from them, too."

Pew Research Center recently asked Americans a provocative question: If you could live to be 120 or even older, would you welcome it? Tuesday morning, Pew released the results.

The survey found Americans largely ambivalent and skeptical, though intrigued by the notion, despite an aging population, consistent incremental gains in life expectancy and medical advances that take the idea of living 120 years and beyond from far-fetched to potentially possible.

"On the one hand, most Americans would like to live beyond today's life span," said Cary Funk, a senior researcher at Pew, who noted the survey found that most view a gradual increase in the number of older Americans as a good thing. "But they see 'up sides and down sides' to medical advances that would allow people routinely to live significantly longer. Most would not want it themselves but think other people would. On balance, most think it would be a bad thing."

The "it" is radical life extension — scientific advances that could let people routinely live decades longer than is usual now.

The question is speculative, Funk and fellow researcher David Masci told the Deseret News. But it's not without merit. "We thought putting down a marker now would be worthwhile."

"Some futurists think even more radical changes are coming, including medical treatments that could slow, stop or reverse the aging process and allow humans to remain healthy and productive to the age of 120 or more," said the report, titled "Living to 120 and Beyond." "The possibility that extraordinary life spans could become ordinary life spans no longer seems far-fetched."

Already living longer

The U.S. population is already aging rapidly, helped in no small part by falling birthrates and increasingly long lives. By 2050, the U.S. Census Bureau predicts that 20 percent of Americans will be at least 65, with more than 400,000 aged 100 years old or older. Increasingly, the researchers said, scientists, educators, religious leaders and others have begun discussing the possibilities of much longer lives.

Pew surveyed 2,012 adults about their attitudes on aging, health care, quality of life and medical advancements, including radical life extension. They also asked dozens of religious leaders from various faiths, and others, including scientists and ethicist, about their views.

More than two-thirds of the adults surveyed said they'd like to live between 79 and 100 years, which the report said is 11 years longer than the existing average American life expectancy. Most believe that by 2050, most cancer will be curable, and that artificial limbs "will perform better than natural ones."

Nearly two-thirds favor current medical advances that prolong life. But they feel "some trepidation" about new medical treatments and say some "often create as many problems as they solve." While most said they would not seek such life-prolonging treatments to gain decades themselves, they also believe the majority would.

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