By Alex Riley
In a restaurant setting sometime in the not-too distant future, a man and a woman are on their first date. After the initial nerves subside, all is going well.
The man is 33, he says, has been single for most of those years, and, although he doesn’t mention it, knows he is looking to settle down and have a family. The woman replies that she is 52, has been married, divorced, and has children in their early 20s. He had no idea – she looked his age, or younger.
This is a dream of Julie Mattison from the National Institute on Ageing (NIA) in the United States. She envisions a time when chronological age ticks by with every year, but biological age can be set to a different timer, where elderly doesn’t mean what it does now.
It sounds far-fetched, but our society has already made great strides towards that goal, thanks to advances in medicine and improvements in healthy living. In 2014, for instance, the United States Health Interview Survey reported that 16% of people aged between 50 and 64 were impaired every day with chronic illness. Three decades earlier that number was 23%. In other words, as well as benefiting from longer lifespans, we are also experiencing longer “healthspans” – and the latter is proving to be even more malleable. To paraphrase and update a speech from John F Kennedy given at the first White House Conference on Ageing in 1961, life can indeed be added to years, rather than just years added to life.