Although they kept us busy at the Age Boom Academy in New York, I re-read every guest blog as they were automatically posted each day, and all the comments, leaving me wondering if I shouldn't take a break more frequently. There was such a glorious variety of voices writing on important aging issues and the conversations that followed in the comments section were equally outstanding.
What an amazing bunch of smart, thoughtful people hang out here. Thank each and every one of you for taking such good care of Time Goes By while I was gone.
The Age Boom Academy was the most exhilarating learning experience I have ever encountered. It was like getting a master's degree in aging and my head is stuffed with knowledge that cannot possibly be summarized in a single post. It will take months of continued study to sort it all out.
Perhaps a good way to begin is to explain what our five days were like.
We met each morning at 9AM at the International Longevity Center on East 86th Street (a walkable distance from the hotel) where breakfast awaited when we arrived. An excellent, healthy lunch was provided each day too along with snacks, coffee, tea and plenty of water during breaks to keep our minds in good working order until we ended at 5PM.
There were 12 or 14 of us journalists around this conference table where, over the five days, a total of 24 presenters, each one a top expert in his or her field, explained their latest knowledge and findings along with a history of their specialties and projections for the future.
The collective brainpower in that room cannot be calculated and amazingly, they all spoke in language we non-experts could understand. I am told that Dr. Robert N. Butler, president and CEO of the International Longevity Center who founded this annual conference ten years ago, works with the presenters to keep jargon to a minimum and he succeeded beyond anything I would have expected.
There were three field trips. One day we spent several hours at the Hebrew Home in Riverdale, a nursing home that is a leader in innovation. Just last Sunday, The New York Times published a story about the organization's ElderServe at Night program in which Alzheimer's patients who live with their families and are prone to wandering in the late hours, are cared for from dusk to dawn which gives their caregivers much-needed, uninterrupted sleep. It is believed to be the only service of its kind in the country.
There is a lot more to tell you about what I learned at the Hebrew Home which I'll do at a later date. We were also given a tour of the Home's new Judaica Museum which will soon be open to the public.
One evening, we had dinner at the Harvard Club which I hadn't visited in 30 years, and where I snuck into the elegant, wood-paneled library still using those wonderful, old, wooden, card catalog drawers. Here is a relaxing, reading corner.
Over the coming weeks and months, I will give you in-depth specifics from the various speakers which will also inform other posts not directly related to the conference. For today, however, here are a few, short, facts I found interesting that don't require much explanation. I realize they are superficial and do no justice to the speakers. Consider this, then, only an introduction.
• There are 100 trillion cells in the human body and 60 billion miles of DNA.
The reason we read so much about worms (c. elegans), fruit flies and lab rats in scientific studies is that they are short-lived, their genomes are known intimately and there are many similarities with humans.
- Steven Austad, PhD
Professor, Department of Cellular and Structural Biology
• One in 10,000 people lives to become a centenarian. Those who do generally have low growth-hormone levels. Short people have a gene mutation that may be related to longevity.
- Nir Barzilai, MD
Director of the Institute for Aging Research
Albert Einstein College of Medicine
• Only two percent of all foundation money goes to age-related research and overall, there has been a 13 percent reduction in support of scientific research during the past eight years. The U.S. has dropped from 11th place, in 1955, to 42nd place in life expectancy among countries. Life expectancy in Jordan is greater than in the U.S.
There are only 11 departments of geriatrics in the 145 U.S. medical schools. Boomers are a generation at risk - they haven't saved enough money for their old age and they are not healthy. There is a direct relationship between wealth and longevity.
Social Security is the only tax that has a salary cap. Although widely believed otherwise, Medicare is not free. One-quarter is paid for by elders through the required Part B premium, the Part D premium and co-pays. Medicare administrative costs are at two percent; private insurers spend 20 percent on administration. Medicare Advantage programs cost 13 percent more than traditional Medicare.
- Robert N. Butler, MD
President and CEO
International Longevity Center-USA
• The processing speed of our brains peaks at age 20. Thereafter, the ability to multi-task is reduced. Outliers – those who continue to function at top levels - tell us these may not be inevitable.
- Howard Fillit, MD
Institute for the study of Aging, Inc.
• Medicare is a social compact between generations; without it, children would be paying for their parents. Elders are the only increasing natural resource on earth – also our most untapped resource.
- Linda Fried, MD
Dean of the Mailman School of Public Health
• There is deeper support now for health care reform than when President Clinton tried it in 1992/93. Public support for insurance companies and big pharma is weak. Reform is going to happen, probably this year, but a single-payer option is overwhelmed in Washington by the status quo.
- Nancy LeaMond
Executive Vice President of Social Impact
• Death rates cannot be reduced by much – they are already low. The reason for increased longevity is that during the 20th century, we redistributed death from the young to the old by reducing and/or eliminating childhood diseases.
• The goal of scientific aging research is not to extend the number of years, but to slow the biological process of aging to prolong healthy life until near the very end.
- Jay Olshansky, PhD
Professor, School of Public Health
University of Illinois
• The U.S. can afford Social Security and Medicare. Every single-payer country rations health care by time. The U.S. currently rations it by money. Forty-five percent of health care is covered by government in U.S.; 80 percent in England.
- Robert Fogel, PhD
Head of Center for Population Economics
University of Chicago
Nobel Laureate, Economics 1993
• The quality of medical care does not relate to the amount of money spent. There is currently no way to shop for health care in any meaningful way.
- Greg Anrig
Vice president of policy
The Century Foundation
• We are a permanently aging society which means the number of people older than 60 will soon be greater than the number of people younger than 15. This will not change when the boomer generation dies which requires that the fundamental institutions of our society be restructured.
- Jack Rowe, MD
Chair, MacArthur Foundation Research Network
Professor, Department of Health Policy and Management
Mailman School of Public Health
A large number of the presenters at the conference, whatever their field or specialty, reported that the single most powerful thing anyone can do to maintain health in old age is exercise, exercise, exercise. So get off your duff, put on your walking shoes and get moving.
This is an embarrassingly skimpy gloss on what I learned in a week, covering just a few factoids from only a third of the learned presenters. But perhaps it will pique your interest and be a preface for future stories when I've had time to digest my notes and do some further study.
It was an honor to be included in the Age Boom Academy. My appreciation goes to Dr. Butler, to Everette Dennis, the COO and executive director, along with others at the International Longevity Center-USA who were so gracious and helpful throughout the week.
Again, thank you all for carrying on so well at Time Goes By while I was away.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Carol Westover: Summertime and Broken Gearshifts.