Archive for the ‘Aging’ Category

When acquaintances pass away

June 28, 2017

The bulk of those we “know” are acquaintances and they may number from several hundred and up to a few thousand.

If the Dunbar Number postulation is correct, we can have strong, stable, close relationships with about 150 people (minimum about 50 and maximum about 250). We  can also “feel” strong, one-way relationships with a few public figures we may never have met, and who may not even be aware of our existence (musicians, actors, politicians ….).

When somebody close passes away the measure of our grief and our reactions is dominated primarily by the closeness of the relationship and then by the circumstances surrounding the death. This has probably been much the same for humans through most of history. However it is our reaction to the passing away of acquaintances which may say more about our changing attitudes to life and death.

I am of an age now where hardly a week goes by without the passing away of an acquaintance. I am also of an age where new acquaintances come slowly. So my circle of acquaintances is beginning to reduce. Trying to observe myself, I would generalise my reactions to the death of an acquaintance as follows:

  • Less than 50 years old : Futility, cruel, tragically young
  • In their 50’s                   : Sorrow, regret, before their time
  • In their 60’s                   : Sadness, misfortune, not very old
  • In their 70’s                   : Regret, it happens, a good innings
  • In their 80’s                   : Acceptance, acceptance, acceptance
  • In their 90’s                   : Acceptance, celebration, a long span
  • In their 100’s                 : Wow! Was he/she still alive?

Of course the circumstances of a death also play some part in the reaction  – but not so much, it seems, once an acquaintance has passed 80. The same kind of tragic accident which takes the life of a 50 year old, seems not so tragic when an 80 year old is the victim. A few months ago a good acquaintance died in his 50’s following a bicycle accident, and it all seemed such a terrible waste. About a year ago an 83 year old acquaintance also died following a bicycle accident, but his death did not seem as tragic, and even included a hint of “what on earth was he doing on a bicycle at that age?”

I suppose it is because the probability of an 80 year old dying is so much higher than that of a 50 year old. Our sense of regret and loss reduces as the probability of death increases. The circumstances surrounding the death seem less important.

At 50 the probability of death is about 1: 300 but at the age of 80 this has increased to 1:20.

UK data image bandolier

Our reactions, I conclude, are probably strongly influenced by the probability of death of that acquaintance. As longevity changes, the probability of death changes, and our reactions follow suit.


 

 

The “design life” of humans

March 25, 2016

The “design life” of a component or system is generally a boundary condition before starting to design. It is an inherent part of the design. The human body can be taken to be a system based on the organs as major components and a myriad of other components. Our genes are the design for our bodies and they exhibit a “design life”. Whatever we may assign as the purpose of our DNA, our bodies exhibit a design life of between 50 and 60 years. 

In engineering, when an artefact or component or system is created, it is quite usual to have a “design life” as one of the key boundary conditions for designing the artefact. The artefact-lifetime to be designed for determines the choice of materials for strength and resistance to corrosion and erosion, and for their cycling properties and their resistance to fatigue and creep. The lifetime to be designed for leads to a choice for the level of redundancies to be included, the ease of maintenance to be allowed for and a choice of a maintenance strategy which includes a replacement “philosophy”. The “design life” is then usually defined as the time for which the artefact will be fully functional and can often be the lifetime guaranteed by the manufacturer. The designer makes his choices based on the probability of failures. For example the quoted design-life may be based on the time when the probability of failure or loss of functionality is – say – less than 10% or 1% or 0.1%.

The concept of “design-life” is different to the concept of “obsolescence” or the “mean time between failures” (MTBF). Obsolescence, whether introduced intentionally or not, is the time when when the defined functionality is no longer relevant. It could be intentionally “built-in” as a marketing strategy or it may result from the appearance of new technologies. The MTBF is a measure of the time between random – not due to wear – failures of a particular component. The MTBF of single components will generally be orders of magnitude longer than the design-life of that component.

Most components or systems can – with proper maintenance – be used with full functionality long beyond their quoted design life. A power plant may have a design life of 25 years, guarantees for only 2 years but may be used for 50 or 60 years. A digital camera may have a design life of 5 years but could be obsolete after just three. A Swatch may have a design-life of 5 years and materials to suit, whereas a Rolex may use materials and manufacturing quality to be able to come with a lifetime guarantee (with suitable caveats for the user’s negligence). When analysing reliability, the life of components and systems is often illustrated by the generic “bathtub curve”, where the total failure rate is given by the addition of random failures, failures due to “infancy problems” and failures due to wear. Infancy issues are those which are caused by quality of materials, manufacturing tolerances, manufacturing processes and the like.

Modes of failure

On the bathtub curve the design life used to create a design will always fall within the section where the total failure rate is at its lowest – that is after the initial period where “teething” and other infancy problems arise and before the sharp increase in failure due to wear. Generally, to change the design life the basic design itself must be changed.

Consider the human body as a system where the organs are the key components making up the system. The functionality of human organs and of different human functional abilities also exhibit a form very similar to a reversed “bathtub” curve. Failure of a human body occurs when one or more of the functionalities falls below some threshold minimum. In the diagram below, the shaded area represents the behaviour of most organs with age. The lines represent the variation of some of the complex human functional abilities with age.

Functionality of organs with age

Functionality of organs with age

The reverse bathtub curve suggests that the human body has a design life of between 50 and 60 years.

“Infancy problems” in this context include birth and genetic defects which can influence the development and failure rate of organs. “Wear” would be the physical and mental wear and tear but would now also include the effects of aging which curtail the replacement of cells. Average, global, life expectancy is now around 80 years and the longest verified age is about 122 years. Average life expectancy has increased over the last 200 years at the rate of about 3 months every year. Over the next 100 years this may level off to perhaps add another 20 years to life expectancy. Already in 2012 the UN estimated that there were more than 300,000 centenarians alive. By 2100 perhaps global life expectancy would have reached 100 years and the maximum age attained may then be around 140-150 years.

Using the engineering analogy, the main advances in life expectancy have so far come due to improving maintenance and replacement processes but have not improved on the “basic design”. The “improved quality” at birth and in infancy and medical advances have meant that “maintenance” processes have improved drastically. Modern health care is to a large extent the application of “preventive maintenance”.

But, the the basic design is unchanged. The materials used in making up the human body have not changed but “maintenance and repair” strategies have improved out of all recognition. The life of our various organs have not changed inherently, except as a result of the much improved maintenance regime. With no change in basic design, the design life has not changed either. The increasing lifetime of the system (the body) is now beginning to approach the lifetime of the components (the organs) it is made up of.

Currently the design life of a human body could be said to be about 50-60 years. Studies suggest that though we live longer we also have longer periods at the end of our lives when our functionality is severely impaired. The ” basic design” has not changed and the “design life” is not increasing. Life spans of 200 years will not be possible without some change in the “basic design”. For our design life to change it will need advances which allow our cells to keep replicating without the aging effects of the shortening of the telomeres. When that happens (not if), then we would effectively have altered the “basic design” of the human body and its design life.


 

 

Sweden’s welfare society is often heartless to the elderly

December 4, 2015

Sweden has a well developed welfare state and longevity is high. But, I sometimes feel, those of the elderly who do not have private means, can expect to be hidden away from the general view and encouraged to fade away.

Age discrimination is endemic. The country has a youth fixation and this leads to a deep-seated and widespread discrimination against the elderly. Generally, once a person is labelled a “pensioner” at 65, the journey to being a non-person begins. Only those with private means have some chance of escaping the solitude and invisibility forced upon them. The elderly are grossly under-represented in parliament. The population over 65 is about 26% but the number of members of parliament over 65 is just 2.6%.  Instead of utilising the wealth of experience and knowledge available, parliament has more than its fair share of incompetent youngsters. (This is in spite of the critical faculties of the brain not being fully developed till about the age of 25). It is more expensive for employers to hire seniors even under this red/green government, for who “self-employment” is a dirty word. The prejudices against the elderly show up even in the health and welfare services. The services for the elderly have become dominated by the cost to fulfil the law and are not really concerned with any other measure of quality. Elderly people are often subject to a form of unconscious triage and receive inferior health care. The laws are ostensibly very friendly to the elderly but are administered often by very indifferent (if not unfriendly) people. It is generally assumed that the law – which should be a minimum requirement- is actually a sufficient assurance of quality. The “friendliness” of the laws and the assumed quality they “assure” is used to assuage the conscience of society as the elderly are hidden away in homes and encouraged to fade away with as little fuss as possible.

Every so often a case gets attention which demonstrates the impersonal and “heartless” nature of the welfare services for the old who do not have private means.

ExpressenSiv and Nils Sundén, 72 and 86, have lived together for over 40 years. But now Stockholm City is forcing them to stay in different homes for the elderly – even though it is against the law. “We do not have many years left so it is important to be together”, says Nils Sundén. 

A couple who have long lived together have the right to continue living together, even if they have different care needs. This law, of the right to cohabitation, has been in force since November 1, 2012. However few make use of it. …..

“We’ve been married for over thirty years. When we first moved from our villa, we came to a retirement home in Blackeberg. I lived in a group home and Siv got an apartment in the same house”, says Nils Sundén.
But the nursing home had shortcomings and the married couple were forced to move to two different homes for the elderly in early 2013. In May, the couple asked about getting to stay together, but this was rejected by the Assistance Unit within the City of Stockholm, which decided  on the matter. Siv and Nils Sundén were denied the opportunity to live together and the official wrote, 
“Joint living is not deemed to be appropriate in the nursing and care homes with dementia orientation unless both spouses have need of such accommodation.” …..

Dick Lindberg is an investigator at the National Social Services Board. He has been commissioned by the government to guide municipalities on how to apply the new law on cohabitation. He has followed the work of the law and written inquiries on the issue since 2012. He was very surprised that Nils and Siv Sundén had been refused the chance to stay together. “It sounds a bit strange. The whole point (of the law) is that it applies to spouses with different care needs. Even if one of the pair is completely healthy they should be able to stay together anyway. Moreover, there is no exception for people with dementia”, said Dick Lindberg.

The couple were first denied the chance to stay together because he lived in a dementia home. Which he does not. Then they were denied on the grounds of the health needs of one of them, which is not valid as a reason for denying that the couple live together. …..

UK longevity increasing faster than national statistics forecasts

April 30, 2015

The rule-of-thumb is that average longevity in a developed country increases by about 1 year every 25 (4 years every century). So in the year 2500 an average longevity should be well over 100 years. It has been postulated that that this rate of longevity increase will decrease as we approach some kind of asymptotic “maximum possible” age – variously proposed to be 100, 150 or even 200 years. But it seems that the understanding of how telomeres affect cell aging and cancer is also fast increasing. If medical science develops to the extent that key cells can be encouraged to renew themselves in a controlled manner (by not reducing the telomere tail in a cell’s DNA with every replication) and yet not succumbing to the risk of uncontrolled growth (cancer), then a human longevity of even 500 years  does not seem impossible.

After 2100 the world will be faced with a fertility rate below replenishment levels and one way of mitigating the effects of a declining population will be an increasing longevity and a corresponding increase in the span of the “child-bearing” years (which in turn will correct the fertility decline). The challenge is going to be in arresting the decline of human faculties. If that is achieved it will automatically increase the “productive life span” and balance the critical and currently declining ratio of productive population to supported population.

A new paper in The Lancet suggests that official statistics in the UK are underestimating the rate at which longevity is increasing. 

J.E. Bennett et al. ‘The future of life expectancy and life expectancy inequalities in England and Wales: Bayesian spatial forecasting of population health.’ Lancet, 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/

Imperial College has put out a press release:

A new study forecasting how life expectancy will change in England and Wales has predicted people will live longer than current estimates.

The researchers say official forecasts underestimate how long people will live in the future, and therefore don’t adequately anticipate the need for additional investments in health and social services and pensions for the elderly.

The new study, published in the Lancet, also predicts that regional inequality in life expectancy will increase, highlighting a need to help deprived districts catch up with affluent areas.

Researchers at Imperial College London developed statistical models using death records, including data on age, sex, and postcode, from 1981 to 2012 to forecast life expectancy at birth for 375 districts in England and Wales.

They predict that life expectancy nationally will increase for men from 79.5 years in 2012 to 85.7 in 2030, and for women from 83.3 in 2012 to 87.6 in 2030. The longevity gap between men and women has been closing for nearly half a century and will continue to get narrower.

The forecasts for 2030 are higher than those by the Office of National Statistics, by 2.4 years for men and 1.0 year for women. …

During my life-time, “middle age” has shifted from 40 years to be now around 50. For my children “middle age” will probably be at around 60.

“Euthanasia is both profitable and cost effective”

July 28, 2014

I think an individual should be able to choose, and be assisted, to die peacefully and painlessly – provided he is of sound mind and is suffering from a terminal and painful illness.

But I am afraid that part of the building momentum for euthanasia in Europe is cost driven and not driven by a concern for the individual. Countries with aging populations and with well developed public health programs are facing increasing costs for the care of the elderly. In Sweden and the UK for example this care is often “out-sourced” or privatised. Many of these establishments are owned by risk capital companies – which is a little strange – but not fundamentally wrong. But the “quality” requirements they are required to meet are set by the public institutions doing the out-sourcing. Inevitably these “quality” requirements are specified in such a way that the out-sourcing succeeds and contracts are let. To ensure this the requirements always allow the service provider sufficient room to make a profit. There is a clear incentive for the service provider to “increase the throughput” and reduce the cost per person they are tasked to care for. That – in turn – is leading to a deterioration in the care provided especially to the aged who are no longer competent or able to complain about the service received. It is clearly cheaper to allow a general reduction of service, and to only do more than the minimum if and when a complaint from a relative is received. Of course, relatives have only limited opportunities to notice any deterioration of service. The “out-sourcing” itself is driven by cost. There have been many “scandals” (such as this one) associated with the “quality” of service in “privatised” homes for the aged. But it is not by accident that the State and the municipalities and health authorities have pushed these scandals into the “privatised” sphere rather than to be found wanting themselves. Part of the reason for out-sourcing these services has clearly been to also out-source the scandals waiting to come as care of the elderly inexorably deteriorates. The more the care of the aged deteriorates the more attractive a voluntary euthanasia scheme becomes – for all parties involved.

I have a clear perception that in Sweden the quality of public medical and palliative care for the elderly is already driven by cost considerations. It is illegal in Sweden but age discrimination is endemic. We hear about procedures and expensive treatments being denied to the elderly for many ostensible reasons, but in reality because the patients are – in the judgement of the care-providers – just too old and too big a drain on costs. For public medical and palliative care, a form of unwritten age-discrimination is already in place. The aged patient has little recourse except to opt for private treatment and then euthanasia may be a much more cost effective solution..

The euthanasia debate is picking up steam in Europe but my fear is that though much of it is carried out under the guise of concern for an individual’s right to die, much of the debate is actually being driven by public health cost considerations. Many of the statements by politicians seem to me to be trial balloons or electoral posturing – but they have an underlying smell of preparing for curbing the costs of caring for the increasing number of the elderly.

It may be very cynical but I note that a healthy growth rate in voluntary euthanasia among the aged has many public and social and economic benefits. The cost of health care for the aged is both capped and reduced. The demographic of the ratio of elderly to working population is improved. Medical resources are freed for the more valuable, younger patients. And the aged patient gets what he or she wants.

A true win-win!

BioEdge: 

Euthanasia might be needed for poor people who cannot access palliative care, the new Lithuanian Health Minister has suggested. Rimantė Šalaševičiūtė was sworn earlier this month, but already she has made waves by backing an open discussion of the legalisation of euthanasia.

Without making any specific proposals, she told local media that Lithuania was not a welfare state with palliative care available for all and that euthanasia might be an option for people who did not want to torment relatives with the spectacle of their suffering.  

The minister has also raised the idea of euthanasia for children. She noted that this option had been approved for Belgian children after a long public debate. It was an option which might be appropriate in Lithuania as well after public debate.

Ms Šalaševičiūtė will face an uphill battle in her campaign to introduce Lithuanians to euthanasia. Many doctors and the Catholic Church oppose it. Dr Andrius Narbekovas, who is both a priest and a doctor, and a member of the Health Ministry’s bioethics commission, told the media:

“The Ministry of Health should protect health and life, instead of looking for ways to take life away. It goes without saying that it is … profitable and cost effective … But a democratic society should very clearly understand that we have to take care of the sick, not kill them.”

Lithuania merely reflects the debate all over Europe which is probably most advanced in Belgium where even involuntary euthanasia (is that not murder?) has been proposed.

Politicians and many aged sufferers could find this irresistible: “Euthanasia is both profitable and cost effective”.

Two of my friends have utilised the services of Dignitas. So, for whatever reasons it may come, I do hope that voluntary euthanasia is available to me when my time comes.

A second language – even if acquired as an adult – can help resist the onset of dementia

June 2, 2014

Being cognitively active has long been suggested as a key element in slowing down the onset of age-related conditions such as dementia and Alzheimers. And being multilingual – it is thought – increases the potential for cognitive activity.

Marian and Shook (2012) – Cognitive benefits of being bilingual

The bilingual brain can have better attention and task-switching capacities than the monolingual brain, thanks to its developed ability to inhibit one language while using another. In addition, bilingualism has positive effects at both ends of the age spectrum: Bilingual children as young as seven months can better adjust to environmental changes, while bilingual seniors can experience less cognitive decline.

And – it would seem from a new study – that having the ability to speak a second language, even if the ability was acquired as an adult, helps in this process.

“Does Bilingualism Influence Cognitive Aging?” Thomas H Bak, Jack J Nissan, Michael M Allerhand and Ian J Deary. Annals of Neurology; Published Online: June 2, 2014 (DOI:10.1002/ana.24158).

Press Release (EurekAlert)New research reveals that bilingualism has a positive effect on cognition later in life. Findings published in Annals of Neurology, a journal of the American Neurological Association and Child Neurology Society, show that individuals who speak two or more languages, even those who acquired the second language in adulthood, may slow down cognitive decline from aging. 

Bilingualism is thought to improve cognition and delay dementia in older adults. While prior research has investigated the impact of learning more than one language, ruling out “reverse causality” has proven difficult. The crucial question is whether people improve their cognitive functions through learning new languages or whether those with better baseline cognitive functions are more likely to become bilingual. 

“Our study is the first to examine whether learning a second language impacts cognitive performance later in life while controlling for childhood intelligence,” says lead author Dr. Thomas Bak from the Centre for Cognitive Aging and Cognitive Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh. 

For the current study, researchers relied on data from the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936, comprised of 835 native speakers of English who were born and living in the area of Edinburgh, Scotland. The participants were given an intelligence test in 1947 at age 11 years and retested in their early 70s, between 2008 and 2010. Two hundred and sixty two participants reported to be able to communicate in at least one language other than English. Of those, 195 learned the second language before age 18, 65 thereafter. 

Findings indicate that those who spoke two or more languages had significantly better cognitive abilities compared to what would be expected from their baseline. The strongest effects were seen in general intelligence and reading. The effects were present in those who acquired their second language early as well as late. 

The Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 forms the Disconnected Mind project at the University of Edinburgh, funded by Age UK. The work was undertaken by The University of Edinburgh Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology, part of the cross council Lifelong Health and Wellbeing Initiative (MR/K026992/1) and has been made possible thanks to funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Medical Research Council (MRC). 

“The Lothian Birth Cohort offers a unique opportunity to study the interaction between bilingualism and cognitive aging, taking into account the cognitive abilities predating the acquisition of a second language” concludes Dr. Bak. “These findings are of considerable practical relevance. Millions of people around the world acquire their second language later in life. Our study shows that bilingualism, even when acquired in adulthood, may benefit the aging brain.” 

 

Eugenics by default: Abortion is of greater significance now than infant mortality ever was

March 6, 2014

We determine the demographic future – almost unthinkingly – by the patterns of child-bearing and child-rearing that we practise today. Population and its composition for the next 100 years or so has already been determined. The Chinese population has started declining and will continue to do so till at least 2100. The Indian population will reach its peak around 2050 and will then decline. The “aging” of populations and the increase of longevity has also been fixed. Demographic “robustness” is critically dependent on maintaining the ratio of the “working” population to the “supported” population (the young and the old). The US is maintaining its demographic sustainability by means of immigration in the face of declining fertility rates. Some countries in Europe are doing the same. Many do not since maintaining  some form of “racial purity” is an undercurrent in many societies and fuels the resistance to immigration – even with dangerous declines in fertility rates. Japan is facing an aging crisis as immigration is resisted. The numbers are inexorable.

Fitness to survive after birth is no longer of significance in the survival stakes. All around the world societies see to it that those with disabilities – once born – are protected. The further evolution of humans will now increasingly be the result of

  1. artificial selection for particular genetic traits, and
  2. the deselection of individuals who have been conceived but are not allowed to be born or to survive and reproduce.

It is my contention that we are in fact – directly and indirectly –  exercising an increasing amount of genetic control in the selection and deselection of our offspring. So much so that we already have “eugenics by default” being applied to a significant degree in the children being born today.

The numbers tell the tale.

One of the key measures of the advances of medical science has been the drastic reduction of infant mortality rates (defined here as deaths after birth but before the age of one year). In the 16th and 17th century this was about 30% of all births (an estimate based on a dearth of data). Since 1950 this rate has dropped from about 15% of all births to around 4% today. The variation is still very high with the current rate being as high as 12% in Afghanistan and 11% in Niger but less than 0.2% in Monaco. By 2050, as development in Africa proceeds, this global rate is expected to have dropped to about 2% (20 per 1000 live births).

It is more difficult to define miscarriages. After fertilisation of an egg it seems that perhaps 50 – 70% fail to attach themselves to the uterus wall and these would not even be considered – or even show up – as a pregnancy. I take such “miscarriages” to be failures of conception. Taking attachment to the uterine wall and the establishment of a fetal heartbeat as being a successful conception, around 10% still result in a miscarriage today.

In 2012 about 135 million babies were born (7 billion population and crude birth rate of 19.15 per 1000 of total population). Worldwide induced abortions numbered about 45 million (estimate). One third of all successful conceptions were not allowed to reach birth.

Economist:  It fell precipitously in the 1990s, but recently the rate has not budged, barely dipping from 29 abortions per 1,000 women (aged 15 to 44) in 2003 to 28 abortions per 1,000 women in 2008. Eastern Europe has the highest abortion rate in the world, at 43 per 1,000. The geography of abortions has also shifted. In 2008, 86% of abortions were in the developing world, up from 78% in 1995.

(Note! the number per 1000 women of child bearing age is different to the number per 1000 live births).

The current status then is:

  • Of 1000 successful conceptions (fetal heartbeat established)
  • less than 20 are by IVF
  • 100 are miscarried before birth
  • 330 are aborted before birth
  • 570 live births result
  • 22 do not survive beyond one year
  • 548 survive beyond 12 months
  • 3 do not survive beyond 5 years
  • About 540 – 545 live to child bearing age

Four hundred years ago miscarriage rates (after successful conception) were probably around 20% of live births and infant mortality rates were about 30%, such that only 50% of all successful conceptions led to children surviving up to their first birthdays.

The picture today is not so different. About 55% of all successful conceptions lead to children surviving beyond one year.

Without moralising about abortion – which I am not qualified to do – as far as the numbers are concerned, infant mortality of 400 years ago has effectively been replaced by abortion today. Deselection which took place in the first year after birth has been shifted to the period after conception but before birth. From a genetic perspective and since there is an element of “selection” in every abortion, abortions today are of greater evolutionary and demographic significance than infant mortality ever was.

Older Dads have sicker children

February 27, 2014

There is – it seems – an optimal child bearing age for fathers as well as mothers. Older fathers may be richer and more able to support a child but there is an increased risk to the health of their children.

A study by Indiana University, in the US, and Sweden’s Karolinska Institute is the largest and one of the best designed studies on the issue and suggests that mutated sperm with older fathers are the cause.

Seems very plausible.

Brian M. D’Onofrio, Martin E. Rickert, Emma Frans, Ralf Kuja-Halkola, Catarina Almqvist, Arvid Sjölander, Henrik Larsson and Paul Lichtenstein Paternal Age at Childbearing and Offspring Psychiatric and Academic Morbidity, JAMA Psychiatry, doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.4525

BBC reports: 

A wide range of disorders and problems in school-age children have been linked to delayed fatherhood in a major study involving millions of people.

Increased rates of autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, suicide attempts and substance abuse problems were all reported. …….

…. The researchers looked at 2.6 million people and at the difference between siblings born to the same father as it accounts for differences in upbringing between families.

Comparing children of a 45-year-old dad to those of a 24-year-old father it indicated:

  • autism was more than three times as likely
  • a 13-fold increased risk of ADHD
  • double the risk of a psychotic disorder
  • 25 times more likely to have bipolar disorder
  • 2.5 times more likely to have suicidal behaviour or problems with drugs
  • lower scores at school

There was no starting point after which the risk started to increase, rather any increase in age had an associated increase in risk.

….. One of the researchers, Dr Brian D’Onofrio, said he was shocked by the findings, which suggested a higher risk than previously estimated. He told the BBC: “The implications of the study is that delaying childbearing is also associated with increased risk for psychiatric and academic problems in the offspring. The study adds to a growing body of research, that suggests families, doctors, and society as a whole must consider both the pros and cons of delaying childbearing.”

The social trend for both parents to have children later in life thus seems to have repercussions for the children. Though the risk may be small it could be said that this a social trend which weakens the health and reduces the well-being of succeeding generations. The demographic effect is that the incidence of psychoses will increase. While having children later may allow a maximisation of the economic contributions of the parents to society, it could also lead to increased medical costs for the affected children in the following generations. Genetic screening and abortion could of course mitigate some of the long term consequences for the evolution of humans.

It could be that we are moving towards greater promiscuity during the “best” child-bearing years but without the production of children due to the availability of contraception. Child bearing itself is then postponed to a more economically suitable time of life for the parents, but a less than optimal time for the health of the children so conceived. Apart from genetic screening of foetuses and abortion of some there does not seem to be a “natural” self-correcting mechanism for this social trend.

Chinese woman said to be 127 years old was born in 1886

October 17, 2013

It has been calculated that there is a high probability that somebody already born will live to see 200 years. That is just a probability of course but if in 2213 it turns out to be true it is likely to be a woman.

There are 54,000 Chinese who are over 100 years old and about 80% of them are women. And the oldest one is Alimihan Seyiti, an Uygur who is 127 years old and was born on June 25, 1886. She is said to have 56 descendants. The claim is still being verified and there are many so called “experts” who doubt the claim.

A Chinese government news portal has claimed that a woman in China's remote far west is 127 years old, making her the oldest person ever to have lived – but experts raised questions over the supposed record.

Alimihan Seyiti sitting in her home in Shule county of Kashgar, northwest China’s Xinjiang region Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Alimihan Seyiti from Kashgar, near the border with Kyrgyzstan, was born on June 25, 1886, said ts.cn, a government website in Xinjiang – when Grover Cleveland was president of the United States and William Gladstone the British prime minister. …. 

At the time of Seyiti’s supposed birth much of Xinjiang was ruled by Yakub Beg, a Tajik warlord, while Russia held other parts of the region.

Xinhua reports

About four-fifths of the more than 54,000 living Chinese centenarians are women, and a 127-year-old woman from northwest China is the oldest of them all, according to figures released on Wednesday.

The Geriatric Society of China (GSC) claimed the oldest person in China is Alimihan Seyiti, a Uygur who was born on June 25, 1886. She lives in Shule County in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

If verified, Seyiti could be the oldest person in the world, beating by five years the Guinness World Record of 122 set by Jeanne Calment from France. Seyiti was honored by the GSC in June as the oldest person in China after the death of Luo Meizhen in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, who was born in 1885.

Xinjiang, Hunan, Yunnan, Shandong, Guangxi and Sichuan are home to China’s 10 oldest supercentenarians (those who have attained the age of at least 110), and their average age is 119.2 years.

According to GSC figures, rural centenarians outnumber their urban counterparts. Among the 54,166 Chinese centenarians, about three-quarters, or more than 74 percent, are from the countryside.

The GSC also published a list of the 10 oldest couples in China, who are now living in the provinces of Hainan, Henan, Liaoning, Fujian and Shanghai Municipality.

According to the GSC, the oldest living couple are Ping Muhu and his wife Zhang Xinniu from Yuzhou City in central China’s Henan Province, whose combined age stands at 213 years. The average combined age of the 10 oldest couples in China is 207.7 years.

When is a strawberry dead?

June 25, 2013

An interesting discussion yesterday on BBC Radio

What Is Death?

Series 8 Episode 1 of 6 Monday 24 June 2013

“What Is Death?”

In the first of a new series of the award winning science/comedy series, Brian Cox and Robin Ince are joined on stage by comedian Katy Brand, biochemist Nick Lane and forensic anthropologist Sue Black to discuss why death is such an inevitable feature of a living planet. As well as revisiting such weighty scientific issues, such as when can a strawberry, be truly declared to be dead, they’ll also explore the scientific process of death, its evolutionary purpose and whether it is scientifically possibly to avoid it all together.

The death of a strawberry had apparently been discussed on an earlier program last year:

Brian Cox Strawberry

A fascinating discussion regarding when a cell can be truly considered “dead” though I couldn’t quite agree that death was necessary to evolution. Only birth is of course. It would be pretty crowded without death but life – or death – after procreation no longer has any part to play in the passing on of genes to the next generation or on evolution. With immortality there would, of course, be no need for procreation or for any future generations. But if immortal beings did beget other immortal beings then an Infinite Universe would come in very handy. However, the fertility rate needed for replenishment of the mortal members of a species is unconnected to the longevity of the individuals and I cannot see that death, per se, has any impact on evolution.

As far as the life and death of a strawberry are concerned it seemed to me that the question was essentially meaningless. You could as well ask if your finger could be alive when it no longer was connected to your body. A finger -like a strawberry is never truly alive unless connected to the body that it is a part of and the question of life or death when it is separated from its host body is moot.

Self-replicating fingers – or strawberries – would make John Wyndham’s Triffids seem benign.


%d bloggers like this: