Many people dream of living to 100 and beyond. Some wealthy people even preserve themselves cryogenically to “live again” in the future. But while I assume these people expect to be in good health during their later years, in reality our bodies and minds have an expiry date.
Yes, we’ve made many advances in medicine, which is a key reason we’re living longer. On paper, that seems great. More time to spend with friends and family, and for traveling the world, right?
The truth is that many older people are sick and alone
The average life expectancy here in Canada has skyrocketed over the past several decades, currently sitting at around 82 years — up from around 68 years in 1950. (If you really want to show a contrast, consider that the average lifespan for males was only around 31 at birth in medieval England — which in the grand scheme of things, wasn’t that long ago.)
The UN’s projected life expectancy for the year 2100 is expected to grow to almost 92. And here’s an article that puts the number at 115, the age when the “capacity of the human body currently reaches its limits.”
The graph is definitely trending upwards, but for me it begs the question: will quality of life match a longer lifespan?
Even with our advanced healthcare, there’s often a great of suffering associated with old age. Aging dramatically increases the chance of getting serious diseases, despite living a healthy lifestyle. Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t really care how little you drank when you were younger, and how many vegemite sandwiches you ate. As pointed out by the NHS in the UK, the top risk for this deadly degenerative brain disease is age.
Smoking and diet are often blamed as the leading causes of cancer, but the National Cancer Institute points out that age is the leading factor — ages 80 to 84 having the highest incidence per 100,000 people.
While we may have ways to combat certain diseases such as cancer, it still needs to be treated. And there’s no guarantee the treatments will extend your life, or improve your quality of life. In fact, the older you are when you are diagnosed with cancer, the longer the recovery time between chemotherapy sessions, and the higher the chance of negative side effects.
Aside from physical ailments, older people are also at higher risk of social isolation and loneliness as their mobility drops and their social networks shrink. This can of course lower enjoyment of life (unless you love being alone.) Loneliness itself can lead to a raised risk of serious health episodes like heart attacks and strokes.
The cost to the public health system in Canada is quite apparent. With an aging population, the price tag of elder care is expected to balloon to $58.5 billion by 2031 (up from $29.7 billion in 2019.) If an ailing senior has no family to live with, or doesn’t have the money for retirement living, then they have no choice but to live at a public care facility.
Photo by Bruno Aguirre on Unsplash
The horrible conditions in these long-term care facilities were exposed during the pandemic, meaning it likely won’t lead to improved quality of life. (That’s assuming they get a spot in a public care facility — the waitlist is long.)
Listen, I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be able to live as long as they want to, if nature lets them. I’ve met many people in their 80s and 90s with sharp minds, who still are able to engage in physical activities (including playing with their grandkids), and that’s great. I hope to be like them one day, but with the way I feel most days, I’m not expecting it.
I want you to live long — but also prosper
At what point are some people living for the sake of living — not only that, but doing it in discomfort? Instead of administering treatments (not cures) that merely extend life, we as a society should be focused on improving life — at any age.
I’m not just talking about simple tips like “smile when you’re feeling sad” or being more grateful. I’m talking about societal changes like putting more money into social services, making healthy food more affordable, encouraging more people to enjoy nature (at least what’s left of it), and tackling the environmental mess we’re in. (We could be making cities more walkable to get people out of their polluting cars, for example.)
Being proactive in this way makes even more sense in places like Canada that has a publicly funded health system. Better health across the board means less tax burden, and less demand on an already exhausted healthcare workforce.
This might all come across as age bashing, and I assure you, it’s not. I want everyone to live as long as they want, but I want them to enjoy it. I don’t see the advantage of living longer if it means chronically suffering, or putting a huge burden on others. I realize most people don’t get to choose when they die, but our current approach doesn’t often prioritize the quality of living longer.
I would obviously love to watch my young son mature into a man, but if it means being hooked up to an IV to survive, then no thanks. If you happen to be one of those people with genes that let you live happily until 106 (and then die peacefully in your sleep), then good for you. Most people are not like that, and will likely experience significant hardship in their later years.
We should be aiming to make each day worth living, not thinking about how we can earn more time. A longer life doesn’t always mean a better life.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
You Might Also Like These From The Good Men Project
|You Said ‘Race’, but Are You Actually Talking About Race?||Understanding the Nonbinary: Are You Confusing Gender With Sex?||The Difference Between Compassion for Those With Disabilities & Ableism?||‘Masculinity’ Is Having an Identity Crisis|
Photo credit: Rod Long on Unsplash