Framing the inborn aging process and longevity science
- 73 Downloads
The medical sciences are currently dominated by the “disease-model” approach to health extension, an approach that prioritizes the study of pathological mechanisms with the goal of discovering treatment modalities for specific diseases. This approach has marginalized research on the aging process itself, research that could lead to an intervention that retards aging, thus conferring health dividends that would far exceed what could be expected by eliminating any specific disease of aging. This paper offers a diagnosis of how this sub-optimal approach to health extension arose and some general prescriptions concerning how progress could be made in terms of adopting a more rational approach to health extension. Drawing on empirical findings from psychology and economics, “prospect theory” is applied to the challenges of “framing” the inborn aging process given the cognitive capacities of real (rather than rational) decision-makers under conditions of risk and uncertainty. Prospect theory reveals that preferences are in fact dependent on whether particular outcomes of a choice are regarded as “a loss” or “a gain”, relative to a reference point (or “aspiration level for survival”). And this has significant consequences for the way biogerontologists ought to characterise the central aspirations of the field (i.e. to prevent disease versus extend lifespan). Furthermore, it reveals the importance of shifting the existing reference point of the medical sciences to one that is shaped by the findings of evolutionary biology and biodemography.
KeywordsAging Disease Framing Health Longevity science
For their helpful and insightful feedback on earlier versions of this paper, I am grateful to three anonymous reviewers for this journal, S. Jay Olshansky and Aubrey De Grey.
- Black W (1788) A comparative view of the mortality of the human species. Dilly, LondonGoogle Scholar
- Bribiescas R, Ellison P (2008) How hormones mediate trade-offs in human health and disease. In: Stearns S, Koella J (eds) Evolution in health and disease. Oxford, Oxford University Press, pp 77–94Google Scholar
- Butler RN, Miller RA, Perry D, Carnes BA, Williams TF, Cassel C, Brody J, Bernard MA, Partridge L, Kirkwood T, Martin GM, Olshansky SJ (2008) New model of health promotion and disease prevention for the 21st century. BMJ 337:149–150Google Scholar
- Cancer Facts & Figures (2008) Atlanta, American Cancer Society. Available at http://www.cancer.org/downloads/STT/2008CAFFfinalsecured.pdf. Accessed 4 October 2009
- Daniels N (2008) Just health: meeting health needs fairly. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
- Hayflick L (2003) Has anyone ever died of old age?. International Longevity Centre, New YorkGoogle Scholar
- Hsiang-Ching K, Hoyert DL, Xu J, Murphy SL (2008) Deaths: final data for 2005. Centre for Disease Control. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr56/nvsr56_10.pdf. Accessed 4 October 2009
- Olshansky SJ, Perry D, Miller R, Butler R (2006) In pursuit of the longevity dividend. The Scientist 20:28–36Google Scholar
- Palmore E (1999) Ageism: negative and positive. Springer Publishing Company, New YorkGoogle Scholar
- Riley J (2001) Rising life expectancy: a global history. Cambridge University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
- World Health Organization (2009) Ageing and life course. Available at http://www.who.int/ageing/events/idop_rationale/en/index.html. Accessed 1 October 2009